On Third Party Strategy and Duopoly Ideology: the Case of the Maine Greens

When partisans of the Democratic-Republican two-party state and duopoly system of government seek to dissuade others from engaging in third party and independent political activism, one of their most common arguments alleges that such efforts will necessarily fail because it is highly unlikely that a third party or independent candidate will succeed in winning the presidency. However, this reveals less about the particulars and possibilities of third party and independent political strategy than it does about the authoritarian cult of the executive fostered by duopolist ideologues who view all politics through the lens of presidential politics. And, like so many of the cliches that pass for thought among partisans of the Democratic and Republican Parties, this one too is entirely backwards.

Unless such a candidate were to come into office as part of a larger third party or independent electoral sweep in the Congress and at the state level, a newly elected third party or independent president would be hobbled and isolated by the ruling Democratic-Republican political class. For this reason, at the very least, it makes more sense for third party and independent political strategists to craft a plan of action that proceeds from the bottom up rather than from the top down.

At the state level, Green Party activists have been struggling with this question in recent months, debating the comparative advantages and disadvantages of a top-down vs. a bottom-up electoral strategy (see, for instance, these Poli-Tea posts from January on building the opposition and February on ballot access law and third party strategy). In Maine, the Green Independent Party has, by necessity, opted for a strategy that focuses on legislative rather than executive contests. Last week, the party's candidate for governor, Lynne Williams suspended her campaign. Via Ballot Access News:
Green Independent Lynne Williams announced today that she's suspending her campaign after falling short of the 2,000 signatures need to qualify for the primary ballot. In a statement, the former head of the Maine Green Independent Party says she'll be focusing instead on getting Green Party candidates elected to state, county and local offices.
See also Derek Viger's take on this development at the Augusta Insider. Though it is unfortunate to be more or less forced to suspend a campaign because of the strictures that maintain the ruling Democratic-Republican ballot access regime, the party can and will now focus its efforts on legislative races which it arguably has a greater chance of winning. From Dave Schwab at Green Party Watch:
On Monday, March 15th, the Green Independent Party of Maine turned in signatures to qualify 18 legislative candidates throughout the state, the second highest total in 12 years of holding official ballot status.

“We made legislative recruitment a top priority this year. With sweeping changes in electoral reform that came out of Augusta last year, we no longer need the governor’s race to keep party status. We turned our resources toward legislative seats, where we have better opportunity for success,” said Anna Trevorrow, Chair of the state Green Independent Party.

The party has nearly doubled its number of qualified candidates from 2008, and has expanded its geographic outreach. The Greens have qualified 15 candidates for State House and 3 for State Senate . . .

“This year we will be focusing on seats we can win with a goal of getting a few Greens elected to the Legislature as well as the local level where there are several Greens currently holding office,” said [Candidate Coordinator Ben] Chipman.

Update: This is not to say that such a strategy is ideal everywhere and at all times, of course. The Green Party is fielding promising candidates for governor in at least five states: Ohio, Nevada, California, Massachusetts and Illinois. Via IPR.

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