Americans Elect: Maybe Americans Don't Want a Centrist Third Party


Americans Elect, this year's very well-funded attempt to get a "centrist" presidential ticket on the ballot, is failing to generate much citizen interest (although it has already succeeded in winning ballot access in 26 states for whoever ends up winning its internet-voted nominating process.).

Time reports this week on their (lack of) progress so far:

When Americans Elect announced last July that it was pouring millions into placing a third-party presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states, the political world snapped to attention. Barack Obama's longtime political adviser David Axelrod revealed his concern by publicly criticizing the group, while pundits gushed. "Watch out," declared New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote that Americans Elect might change politics the way the iPod changed music.   

So far, Americans Elect is looking more like the Zune than the iPod. The group canceled a May 8 online caucus after no candidate met the necessary criterion of 1,000 backers in each of 10 states….

Founded by a group of political centrists, including former investment banker Peter Ackerman, Americans Elect had a promising plan….The group had backing from well-known moderates, including former Senator David Boren of Oklahoma, a Democrat, and former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican. It also had money. Americans Elect's website alone cost $10 million, and another $15 million has gone toward its most valuable asset: ballot access….

Despite that feat, which has eluded many an independent party, an underwhelming 420,000 people have signed up with Americans Elect online…..

Still, you can't write off a well-funded outfit with national ballot access. Especially when the public is in an angry mood. Americans Elect's pollster, Doug Schoen, notes that the group's rules don't require a nomination until June. "If you can help us find a candidate," he says, "I'd be thrilled."

Whether if-nominated-he-would-serve (unlikely), the draftee with the most fans right now by many thousands at Americans Elect site is none other than current Republican candidate Ron Paul, subject of my out-very-soon book Ron Paul's Revolution: The Man and the Movement He Inspired.

But lack of enthusiasm and awareness for this project is such that even Paul, who can draw 7,000 people in one city to show up to hear him, has only 9,129 people trying to draft him for this Americans Elect cause.

RealClearPolitics also has shaken its head at Americans Elect this week:

the reform group may wind up with the equivalent of a spiffy new car and no driver. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer and progressive Salt Lake City ex-Mayor Rocky Anderson are the leading presidential candidates who signed up to run on an Americans Elect ticket [Ron Paul is a mere draftee, he's never deliberately signed up for the nomination], but they have not yet reached the requisite backing. Roemer has to attract 1,000 computer clicks from supporters in each of 10 states to progress to the online convention in June. Anderson has to capture 5,000 clicks in each of 10 states, which is the higher hurdle invented for candidates who are not big-city mayors, governors, members of Congress, big-time CEOs, or similar leaders of note….

The struggles of Americans Elect have not come as a huge surprise to the media or the political cognoscenti, even among those rooting for anything that might detox traditional party politics. In March, New York Times columnist Gail Collins described the group's concept as "delusional, in a deeply flattering way: We the people are good and pure, and if only we were allowed to just pick the best person, everything else would fall into place. And, of course, the best person cannot be the choice of one of the parties, since the parties are … the problem."

If Americans Elect could field a candidate who could attract 3 percent to 5 percent of the vote in November, which Wachtel termed "really pretty minor," the group's ballot line could be retained for independent races in many states in 2014 and 2016. 

I've blogged in March about Americans Elect using citizen donations to pay back their bigwig initial funders, and mocked a similar attempt to create a "centrist third party" last time around, Unity08.