Next year is shaping up to be a banner year for independent and third-party office seekers. The only thing that is missing is the candidates.
The current political environment is more favorable to third-party candidates than any time since the early 1990s. That's when independents Lowell Weicker and Angus King won governorships in Connecticut and Maine, and Ross Perot made his surprisingly strong run at the White House. Today, polls suggest that the one-two punch of Iraq and Katrina has led many to view the Republicans as poor stewards of government. Scandals at the federal level and in Ohio, Kentucky and Connecticut haven't helped Republicans, either.
Democrats seem limited in their capacity to take advantage, however. Many voters view them as too secular, too elitist and (by far most important in my opinion) too trusting of government to solve problems. Democrats, too, have had their scandals in New Jersey and Illinois. These factors, in conjunction with the public's growing belief that the country is headed in the wrong direction, should offer an enormous opportunity for third-party candidates.
Where, then, are the Weickers, Kings and Jesse Venturas? I can't name a single credible candidate for governor in 2006 who isn't a Democrat or Republican. This week's remarkable news was that Tom Golisano, founder of the New York Independence Party and a three-time independent candidate for governor, decided to become a Republican in preparation for a fourth bid next year.
Given how the New York race is shaping up, I would rather be a plump turkey on Thanksgiving-eve than a Republican running for statewide office there in 2006. But Golisano's clear preference was for major-party affiliation. The question is: Why?
In Golisano's case the issue clearly isn't money--he's a billionaire. Rather, it's the stuff money can't buy--not easily, at least--that give the major parties their advantage. Both have created massive databases of persuadable voters, possess the backing of armies of trained political operatives and have marshaled thousands of dedicated volunteers to their causes. Any third-party candidate, no matter how appealing his or her message, lacks these critical resources.
Voters, therefore, seem likely to keep supporting Democrats and Republicans because they've become exceptionally skilled at running campaigns. If only they were as good at running governments.
UPDATE: Taegan Goddard points out another early 1990s third-party winner. Wally Hickel was elected governor of Alaska in 1990.