Americans Elect launches centrist third-party bid amid Washington dysfunction
Americans Elect, which is inviting the public to a virtual primary, faces daunting hurdles. But dissatisfaction with the partisan gridlock in Washington creates a favorable political climate.
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Political scientists point to Ross Perot's folksy "get under the hood" campaign as a major influence on deficit reduction through the rest of the 1990s.Skip to next paragraph
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Americans Elect, which is applying in states as a political party but operates legally as a nonprofit 501(c) 4 social welfare organization.
"The only political philosophy we have is that people should be greater than parties," Elliot Ackerman, an Iraq War veteran and centrist who serves as the group's chief operating officer, told the Los Angeles Times.
The group has on its board former CIA chief William Webster, Republican strategist Mark McKinnon and pollster Doug Schoen. In many ways, it is taking a different route than the insurgent tea party movement, which used the Republican primaries as a crowbar to elect a batch of small government conservatives to hold the line on federal spending.
Americans Elect, on the other hand, is more formalized, intending to guide the direction of the country by direct participation as it seeks to build a new coalition and break the two-party monopoly that has dominated Washington since the demise of the Whigs in the mid-19th century.
But the group faces an uphill climb, to say the least. While Americans may rate their satisfaction with Congress at 20-year lows – a fact only highlighted by the current debt debacle – crashing the doors of the White House requires a level of sustained passion that may be difficult to muster from those not driven by more extreme and impassioned ideologies, whether on the right or left.
"You need to be able to demonstrate [as the tea party movement did] that there's a cost to politicians for failure to pay attentions to their concerns," says John Aldrich, a political science professor at Duke University, in Durham, N.C. "It's the tea party types and their peers on the left who have the intensity of preference that keeps them motivated. So that's going to be a problem for Americans Elect. Picture all of us militant moderates out there marching: 'We're marching for okay-ness.'"
Another problem is money, says Joe Tuman, a San Francisco State University political scientist. "You can get on all 50 ballots and maybe you attract the right people to run, but if you don't have the money for organization, consulting, advertising and marketing, logistics, advance people, message strategists – if you don't have that kind of infrastructure, it is very hard to compete and to be taken seriously," Mr. Tuman told the San Jose Mercury News this week.
So far, however, Americans Elect has taken the greatest heat for vowing to use the "open source" of the Internet, in which voters who sign up to become online "delegates" will choose candidates at a virtual convention next June, all while failing to disclose heavy-hitting donors.