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2008: Time Ripe for Third Party Ticket?

A group of political consultants from both sides of the political aisle is taking steps to draft a third-party ticket for president in 2008, guided by a belief that neither the Republican or Democratic parties are adequately addressing the problems of average Americans.

"We believe that, while the leaders of both major parties are well-intentioned people, they are trapped in a flawed system -- and that the two major parties are today simply neither relevant to the issues and challenges of the 21st century nor effective in addressing them," reads a four-page summary document for "Unity '08," a copy of which was obtained in advance by The Fix (and which is now online).

"Unity '08" plans to formally launch its Web presence today, but several of its principals have already been courting potential donors as well as checking with the Federal Election Commission about the requirements of running a third-party slate for president in 2008. According to the Unity '08 Web site, the group "is organized under IRS rules as a section 527 political organization" while it awaits FEC guidance.

Among the major players behind the effort are: Doug Bailey, a former Republican consultant and the founder of The Hotline; Hamilton Jordan and Jerry Rafshoon -- veterans of the Carter administration; Nicco Mele, webmaster for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign; and Roger Craver, a Democratic direct-mail consultant intimately involved in John B. Anderson's independent presidential bid in 1980 (and a co-founder of The Hotline with Bailey).

Although details of the group's aims are somewhat spotty, Unity '08 hopes to harness the power of the Internet to build a community of activists who will be tasked with choosing a "unity" ticket (made up of one Democrat and one Republican) during an online "convention" in June 2008. "That will be after the two parties are likely to have decided in their primaries who their nominees will be, so the Unity '08 convention delegates would then be able to consider who is best to run against them," according to a four-page question and answer document being circulated by the group.

The document summarizing the group's plan outlines a series of "crucial issues" that it hopes its presence will force the national parties to address. These include "global terrorism, our national debt, our dependence on foreign oil, the emergence of India and China as strategic competitors and/or allies, nuclear proliferation, global climate change, the corruption of Washington's lobbying system" and many, many more.

The group insists it is not a stalking horse for any candidate and that it has not spoken about its plans with Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) -- the perceived frontrunners for their respective party's nominations.

Unity '08 faces a daunting challenge -- if history is any guide. In recent memory, four third-party presidential bids have gained any sort of momentum.

The first was Anderson in 1980. A Republican member of Congress from Illinois, Anderson decided to run as an independent. He wound up taking 5.7 million votes, good for less than seven percent of the national vote.

Twelve years later, Texas businessman Ross Perot used his massive personal wealth to finance a third-party candidacy. Capitalizing on voter disgruntlement with the two major parties, Perot won 19.7 million votes (nearly 19 percent) -- the best showing in modern history for a candidate not affiliated with the two national parties. Perot tried again in 1996 but was considerably less successful, taking just eight percent of the vote (a total of eight million votes).

In 2000, consumer advocate Ralph Nader ran as the Green Party's candidate, taking less than 3 percent of the vote. But in an election in which the popular and electoral vote were won by opposing candidates, Democrats said Nader's candidacy helped elect George W. Bush.

If polls are to be believed, voter disgust with politics is an historic levels -- an unhappiness that could benefit the Unity '08 efforts. The group also has a number of experienced political professionals guiding its efforts, distinguishing it from some of the less organized efforts in the past. Even so, The Fix remains skeptical about the chances of any third-party slate given the significant financial and institutional hurdles.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 30, 2006; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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