Americans Elect Sputters in Effort to Field Nominee

Americans Elect Sputters in Effort to Field Nominee

By Alexis Simendinger - May 8, 2012

The experiment in independent political thinking that is Americans Elect is poised to flame out while the presidential contest gains altitude. Why the group's ambitions are falling flat in a political climate seemingly over-ripe for a prominent third-party is worth a look.

Despite optimism and expertise, an innovative website designed to put the voters in the driver’s seat, and a budget of about $40 million, Americans Elect has not produced -- and likely will not produce -- an independent-party candidate who possesses marquee national appeal.

“Ultimately, Americans Elect is in this Catch-22 where it’s not going to be viewed as credible by a lot of observers unless it has a high-profile candidate,” said Darry Sragow, a Los Angeles attorney who served as a candidate recruiter for the group as well as an adviser. “But it’s having trouble getting a high-profile candidate because of questions about its credibility.”

Sragow -- who described powwows with “household names” he ultimately failed to woo -- said chances are slim that a prominent Americans Elect candidate would step forward to challenge Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, despite voters’ doubts about each party’s standard-bearer. “If you’re calculating the odds, it’s unlikely,” he told RCP.

A nonprofit group created to deliver more choices to voters in 2012, Americans Elect is working to secure a spot on ballots nationwide by November. It is now on 26 state ballots while waiting to confirm its status in four more, a spokeswoman said. It has completed signature-gathering in five additional states, and has to begin collecting signatures in Texas and Idaho. The group says it is confident that by Election Day, it will be on ballots in all 50 states.

An achievement, yes, but not revolutionary if Americans Elect can’t field a credible choice for president who polls well enough to win an invitation to the presidential debates in the fall, influences the national conversation, and garners a healthy percentage of votes in November.

The expensive and time-consuming effort to clear slots on state ballots was supposed to encourage money-challenged firebrands to jump into the race, build followings with the help of Americans Elect’s more than 400,000 citizen “delegates,” and go on to capture at least 270 electoral votes.

But based on its unique rules, the group may fail to muster enough registered-voter support online for any ticket that squares with the custom-designed nominating process. In that case, the “who” is more important than the “what.”

“Parties are very strongly identified with the people who represent them,” said Catholic University political scientist John Kenneth White, an author of books about reform party movements. “Americans Elect is driven by malaise and dissatisfaction with both major parties, but it is a prescription for failure because dissatisfaction with the parties is not a firm enough foundation on which to build a major third party in the United States.”

White said George Washington’s presidency is a model for Americans Elect and its ideals -- “a civic-minded president putting partisanship aside.” But partisans have long occupied the White House, and while an expanding population of independent voters signals displeasure with the two national parties, what troubles independents is not ideological rifts, but inaction -- the unwillingness to solve problems.

Third Way, a centrist think tank, reported Monday that the electorate in eight battleground states -- Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania -- has changed substantially since 2008. Independent voter registration surged nearly 6 percent in those states compared with the last election, while Democratic voter registration dropped 5.5 percent and Republican registration fell 1.3 percent. There is no question that people are migrating away from the two-party system this year. But whether people vote this November or stay home, and for whom some decide to vote, depends on many factors.

After the midterm elections that brought Republicans to power in the House, Third Way tried to figure out what Obama voters from 2008 had in mind when supporters decided to stay home in 2010. At least 40 percent were independents. The analysts found 39 percent of the Obama voters said they believed the president and Democrats had tried to do too much; 45 percent said Obama and Democrats should have done more; 50 percent said deficits were a serious problem and another 42 percent said deficits were a concern.

In this election, Mitt Romney (and Ron Paul) are playing to the “too much” crowd, while Obama tries to satisfy the “too much” and “too little” folks at the same time. The Republican Party is talking far more than Democrats are about the deficit.

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Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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