The Third Party and Independent Front: On In An Off Year

The 2009 "off-year" elections certainly raised the profile of third party and independent campaigns in the national media, confusing the strategic and tactical calculus of ideologues on both sides of the duopoly divide. For the moment, let's consider three such campaigns and draw some preliminary conclusions: that of Michael Bloomberg in New York City, Chris Daggett in New Jersey and Doug Hoffman in upstate New York.

Though the race was closer than many had predicted, Bloomberg's victory as an independent in New York City's mayoral election proves that with enough money and name recognition independent candidates for office can easily defeat a duopolist opponent. Of course, it also helps to own a media empire. Cynical asides aside, Nancy Hanks relays the import and significance of the independent vote in Bloomberg's success:
The Independence Party vote for Mike Bloomberg yesterday broke numerous records and re-enforced its ongoing mandate for independent governance and non-partisan reform. Unofficial returns released by the Board of Elections put the IP total on Column "C" at 142,817 votes, nearly 26% of Bloomberg's total and 13% of all votes cast. This means that 1 in 4 Bloomberg voters chose to vote on the Independence Party line. The vote for the mayor on the Independence Party line was an increase of 91% over its total four years ago, when it drew nearly 75,000 votes on its crucial Column "C". [Emphasis added.]
The Independence Party is a force to be reckoned with in New York politics. Their organizational strength will be an asset to future candidates running campaigns independent of the Democratic and Republican Parties.

In New Jersey, Chris Daggett's independent candidacy for governor provides us with the opposite scenario. Daggett began his campaign with virtually no name recognition and was outspent by the Democrat 20 to 1 and by the Republican 10 to 1. At the high point of his campaign he polled 20% support among NJ voters. In the end, he received 5.9% of the vote. Yet, this in itself is a victory of sorts. Daggett was the first candidate for governor of New Jersey, who was neither a Republican nor a Democrat, to receive over 5% of the vote since 1913. Furthermore, his campaign led to calls in the mainstream press for ballot reform, ballot access reform and drew attention to the farce that is duopoly politics. For now, however, New Jersey remains co-dependent rather than independent.

In New York's 23rd, Doug Hoffman's campaign has shown that even a no-name third party candidate can succeed in marginalizing duopolist opponents, and that the activist grassroots support networks of the major parties can be effectively mobilized for third party and independent campaigns. The secret of viability is no secret at all. The difference between a non-viable and a viable third party or independent candidate is the difference between supporting the duopolist charade and supporting independent candidates for elected office. Without doubt, duopolist ideologues will come out of the woodwork to lecture us about how Hoffman's candidacy demonstrates that third party candidates for office cannot win. In fact, and in truth, it demonstrates the exact opposite.

Though these three races garnered a significant amount of attention from the national media and third party activists, there is much more to report at the local level on the third party and independent front from the 2009 "off-year" elections. Ballot Access News proves indispensable yet again. Here are a few headlines:
Three Constitution Party members elected to Utah city office in non-partisan elections.
• Both Green Party members of Portland, Maine's city council were re-elected.
• The Working Families Party won two seats on Bridgeport CT's school board.
Green Party Watch sums up results for Green Party candidates across the country.
Regular readers might be wondering how Michael O'Connor fared in his contest for town council in Rotterdam, NY. As of this writing, there are no updates at his blog The Rotterdam Windmill. The "unofficial" results reported at the Schenectady County Board of Elections indicate that Michael came in second behind Nicola DiLeva – who was the Democrat in the race, as I gather from this report on a recent debate in the district. As Michael explained at The Windmill and in his two guest posts here at Poli-Tea, political establishmentarians told him that his independent effort was doomed from the beginning, that it was an impossible task, that he wouldn't even get his name on the ballot. Yet, in the end, he successfully petitioned to establish a new, independent, third party ballot line – the No New Tax Party –, and then defeated his Republican opponent in the primary, effectively changing the dynamics of the race and offering voters a new choice on election day. As Michael wrote in early September:
Our effort proved it’s not an impossible task. It will hopefully help open a door for others to follow through – a door they previously thought couldn’t be opened. Belief drives effort. And effort is the one variable that you can control completely.

1 comment:

Michael said...

The agony of defeat was short-lived for me as I had the great enjoyment of my oldest daughter getting married just a few days later. With festivities behind me, I will be writing about my experience soon. We relied on a voter dynamic that didn't materialize. I made it a close race by having the Republican line but ultimately, we failed to translate the power of the unaffiliated voter into a cohesive voting block. I did garner 43% overall in the 3-way race but third party politics will be a much harder climb than I ever imagined.