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Arguably the biggest campaign story of the week (although his own dawdling on the subject had rendered it somewhat anticlimatic) was the decision by Florida's Republican Governor, Charlie Crist, to abandon the GOP primary and campaign for the office as an Independent.

Crist became the fourth prominent Independent bid of the 2010 electoral cycle. He followed a trio of gubernatorial candidates: Massachusetts state treasurer Tim Cahill (a former Democrat), former Rhode Island U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee (a former Republican), and Maine attorney Eliot Cutler (a former Democrat).

It is, when viewed through the lens of recent history, highly unusual for there to be this multitude of legitimate non-partisan contenders. In the past decade, only two statewide Independent candidates have successfully claimed the offices they sought. Both of those, for what it is worth, had major caveats: Bernie Sanders was, though an Independent, the default Democratic nominee when he ran for the Senate in Vermont in 2006. Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman's win in 2006 over Ned Lamont was possible because the GOP nominee never successfully launched, allowing Lieberman to cobble together a narrow victory by retaining a fraction of the Democratic vote while owning the GOP vote.

These elections, one and all, appear to be quite different. The nonpartisan quartet in this cycle will be dealing with organized opposition from both the GOP and the Democratic Party.

So, how successful could they be?

One could make the argument that if an Indie candidate were to break through, this would be the year for them to do so. The majority party has taken a beating over the last sixteen months. In the first Daily Kos State of the Nation tracking poll taken after Inauguration, the Democrats had a favorability spread of +21. This week, that spread was a much less robust negative 12 (41/53).

What is unique about this sizeable drop in Democratic free-fall in favorabilities is that it has not been accompanied by a corresponding rise in Republican favorability. Indeed, far from it: what was a net negative favorability of 23 on Inauguration Day is now a net negative of 33 points (32/65). So, while voter esteem for the Democratic Party has gone from good to bad, voter esteem for the GOP has gone from worse.

This would seem to open the door for a third option.

But will it?

Not everybody is sold. New York Daily News columnist Errol Lewis, for example:

If Americans voted purely with their heads and not their hearts, the candidates running as independents in high-profile races around the nation would have a better chance at the polls this year.

But in these tough and turbulent times, voters are searching for stability, consistency, sympathy and reassurance - and that will work to the benefit of established Democratic and Republican candidates.

Current polling data, which of course is subject to a myriad of changes before November, seems to dispute Lewis' thesis:

  • A McLaughlin and Associates poll taken immediately before Crist's announcement had him leading a three-way tabulation, taking 33% of the vote, versus 29% of the vote for Republican Marco Rubio and 15% of the vote for Democrat Kendrick Meek. It is worth noting, however, that the pollster in question (Jim McLaughlin) did express strong doubts that Crist could hold that position.
  • The most recent poll out of Massachusetts shows Tim Cahill running second (with 29% of the vote), within striking distance of incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick (who sat at 34%). Patrick has led most 2010 polling, although he has struggled to garner a significant plurality. In the half-dozen polls released in 2010 pairing Patrick with Cahill and GOP nominee Charlie Baker, Patrick has done no better than 35%, while Cahill has done no worse than 21%.
  • Probably the Indie contender in the best position is Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee. Since he announced in early January that he would be seeking the office of Governor as an Independent, he has either tied or led in every poll conducted in the state's gubernatorial race. Interestingly, the heavily-blue state of Rhode Island has not elected a Democratic governor since 1992, when Bruce Sundlund was elected as a Dem.
  • While there has been scant polling from the state of Maine, this is a state that has demonstrated an appetite for Independent candidacies in the past. Independent Barbara Merrill nabbed 22% of the vote in 2006 (holding Democratic incumbent John Baldacci to just 38%), and Independent Angus King managed to win election in 1994, and then re-election in 1998, against legitimate contenders from both parties. Maine was also, for those who like their presidential history, the state that came within just fifteen thousand votes from giving Ross Perot his only electoral vote in 1992 (Perot actually came in second in the state's 2nd CD, winning 33% of the vote). Furthermore, a late 2009 poll from PPP (PDF file) tested the strength of a nameless third party candidate in Maine. The generic Indie candidate logged 18% of the vote.

It is possible, though unlikely, that all four of these candidates could emerge victorious in November. For an Independent candidate to be successful historically, they needed some combination of climate, money, and name recognition. All of these are apparent in each of these races. Given the omnipresent "wasted vote" principle, however, it is at least as likely (and perhaps more so) that the quartet listed above will go zero-for-four in November.

Should that occur, they will fall into the traditional role of Independent candidates: that of spoiler.

Cahill is the candidate most clearly positioned to play this role, which is why GOP nominee Charlie Baker has levelled most of his early fire on Cahill, and why Cahill is running a playbook that has clear connectivity to the one recently waged by Republican Scott Brown. Cahill and Baker are locked in a mano-a-mano struggle to attain the ticket to a November victory--a singular anti-incumbent candidate. As long as the anti-Patrick vote is split two ways, Governor Patrick can cling to that narrow path to victory wherein he is re-elected with around 40% of the vote. With neither of his rivals anywhere near standing down, Patrick is, despite being an incumbent in an absolutely abysmal climate, sitting in an enviable position.

There are other, more traditional, spoilers elsewhere. Assuming he can stay out of severe legal trouble (and that is not the safest bet in Nevada), Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian might prove to be a lifeline for embattled Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Meanwhile, Minnesota, like Maine, is a state willing to at least flirt with Independent candidacies (perhaps Jesse Ventura rings a bell?). No less than seven nonpartisan candidates are considering bids in what is bound to be a close race for Minnesota Governor.

At present, there are two nonpartisan officeholders among the 585 men and women who either serve as state Chief Executives or in Congress (well...three, if you count Crist). That number may very well hold steady after the 2010 election cycle has come to a close.

One thing you can count on, however, is that these Indie candidates will add a layer of intrigue to the 2010 landscape, and could provide game-changing textures to races from coast to coast.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun May 02, 2010 at 07:00 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Am I completely wrong, or does this oil spill (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    askew, tari

    change everything?

    Honestly, I expect to see some numbers change very dramatically though I couldn't tell you in which direction.

    Especially if this thing continues to worsen.

    We haven't seen anything yet.

  •  Apparently Lieberman helped talk him into (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    askew, Gooserock


    Some kind of karma involved in that.

    "[R]ather high-minded, if not a bit self-referential"--The Washington Post.

    by Geekesque on Sun May 02, 2010 at 07:06:55 PM PDT

  •  All Indies Are Conservatives Aren't They? (0+ / 0-)

    While some may let a Democrat slide in, if they win they're surely not going to govern or caucus Democratic right?

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun May 02, 2010 at 07:11:05 PM PDT

    •  Most Indies are moderates, (0+ / 0-)

      though you can find almost every type of politician among them. But statisticaly, as a group, indies fall into the "center camp" - somewhat more conservative then Democrats (what's naturally with Democratic party dominated by far left activists) and substantially more liberal then Republicans (by the same reason, only "far left" must be substituted with "far right"). Many indies (like myself) prefer their pragmatic centrism and freedom from any "party orders" in choosing a candidate to support to any theoretical "party benefits".

  •  Connecticut had an indie Governor (5+ / 0-)

    Lowell Weicker, a moderate ex-Republican, 1991-1995.

    Fun fact:  Weicker's newly-formed party was called "A Connecticut Party."

    Lieberman's is called "Connecticut for Lieberman."

    Which pretty much sums up the difference.

    I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his payroll. - Edna St. Vincent Millay

    by Tara the Antisocial Social Worker on Sun May 02, 2010 at 07:14:45 PM PDT

  •  Is Meek running any ads yet? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tari, annieli

    Seems like he's in real danger of allowing himself to be painted as a non-entity in the race.

    Crist and Rubio are sucking all of the oxygen out the race, and Meek doesn't appear to be doing a damn thing about that.

  •  Crist and Meek split the same base. Rubio wins. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tari, qwertyuiop

    The GOP is backing Rubio and GOP voters in FL will back Rubio.  Crist's claim to fame is his ability to draw moderates and Democrats which is Meek's base also.

    Only hope in FL is for Meek (weakest of the two candiates) to drop out and, along with Democratic Party from Obama to FL state party, back Crist.

    That will unite sane people in FL under one candidate and even then it will be close.

    •  no way, don't be silly (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Odysseus, allenjo

      there is absolutly no way the nominee of a major party will "drop out" in favor of a rethug and leave the democratic Senate line empty for an important state like Florida, get real.

      Besides Meek in now in a much better position tham Crist who has no staff, no base and just had his worst fundraising quarter. Crist is riding some big publicity right now but the odds are against him in the long run.

  •  Independents.. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    are basically people with no principles. Can't stand em.

    •  They really are. They are egotistical. They (0+ / 0-)

      leave the mainstream parties if there egos get chrushed.  Joe got primaried.  So did Christ.  They aren't independent because of there beliefs they are because they had there feeling hurt.

      Ora Lee Tate is suing, that usually means we win and they are desperate..... victory brings the crazies out of the closet.

      by oceanstateliberal247 on Sun May 02, 2010 at 08:19:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  corruption and money will sink Crist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Crist is getting too caught up in the GOP corruption scandal and the recent revelation of a "secret" consultant friend of his who got paid at least $300,000 for zero work has interested both the FBI and IRS. Within a month he'll sink like a rock in the polls. Plus his entire staff has resigned so he has to use a lot of his cash ot hire  everyone from pollsters to campaign mangers  and a complete staff in several offices around the state. And finally most of his big money backers are republicans who won't be bankrolling him any longer. Crist will soon begin to stink like putrid dead meat.

    That leaves Rubio in the lead but he too is caught up in the GOP corruption mess and could even be indicted. But right now Rubio is in first place and hoping Crist won't steal his independant and moderate voters.

    Rep. Kendrick Meek is in the catbird seat. he has raised a good amount of cash and has the time to wait until after the primary to spend it. As a former state trooper he has a clean image and as a real Democrat he has the backing of the states largest political party. As soon as the primary is over he'll begin to gain statewide recognition and from there on he'll be able to contrast the far right Rubio and the turncoart liar Crist with his own solid character. Meek needs our support but if we truly want to elect "better Democrats" Meek can and will win in November.

  •  Take the Box (0+ / 0-)

    For an Independent candidate to be successful historically, they needed some combination of climate, money, and name recognition.

    In an age of corporatism, there is no such thing as an Independent.

    "...calling for a 5" deck gun is not parody. Not by a long shot." (gnaborretni)

    by annieli on Sun May 02, 2010 at 07:42:25 PM PDT

  •   Mason/Dixon pollster doubts Crist (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Crists turncoat is good news for Meek.

    In a three-way race, where someone can win with less than 35 percent of the vote, anything is possible. And in addition to giving Crist a new lease on his political life, the gambit also suddenly makes Meek viable – especially if the Democrats currently supporting Crist go “home” to their own party’s candidate.

    A pollster's doubts

    One veteran Florida-based pollster predicted that the excitement will die down quickly, and that before long, Crist won’t look as viable as he does today.

    “He’s going to drop like a rock, probably within the next month,” says Brad Coker, managing director of the Mason-Dixon polling firm. “I think by Labor Day he’s a distant third, and not even part of the conversation anymore, except on how many votes he draws away from Rubio or Meek.”

    In a private poll Mr. Coker conducted earlier this month looking at a potential three-way Senate race in Florida, the majority of Crist’s support was coming from Democrats. “That’s the problem,” says Coker, who is based in Jacksonville, Fla. “Democrats are going to melt away. Once Charlie starts to drop and they don’t think he can win, they’re all going to jump back to Meek.”

  •  Crist should be seen in the context of the end (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    of Republican center right politics during the nutty tea party period. Thus it is more related to Senator Lincoln Chafee and Arlen Specter rather than Cahill, Cutler and Lieberman.

    Ultimately, Boehner and McConnell will bear full responsibility for the catastrophic direction the GOP has taken. Hopefully, the Democrats do just fine in November forcing these incompetent, irresponsibly obstructionist leaders to step down.

  •  Bernie Sanders won as an ind. statewide 4x (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, shpilk, Zack from the SFV

    in the past 10 years

    When you say "In the past decade, only two statewide Independent candidates have successfully claimed the offices they sought" you ignore that fact that Bernie Sanders won not only the 2006 race for Senator from Vermont, but also won the Vermont At-Large US House seat as an independent in 2004, 2002, and 2000.  Those races were also statewide - the reality of representing a very small state.

    While Bernie may have caucus with the Dems in DC, he is emphatic about not accepting the Democratic nomination (even when he wins it by a write-in in the primary...) . He is always elected as an independent.

    Once social change begins,it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read...You cannot oppress people who are not afraid anymore.

    by terjeanderson on Sun May 02, 2010 at 08:11:52 PM PDT

  •  Crist supports McCollums anti-HCR lawsuit (0+ / 0-)

    no progressive in their right mind should give a dime to Crist. Kendrick Meek supports Obama and HCR plus he's member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and a "better democrat" that we can elect.
    Here's what the turncoat Crist said about HCR and the teabagger lawsuit...

    “The Democrats refused to pass meaningful, bipartisan health care legislation with real solutions, and instead passed a bill that includes an extensive government overreach and intrusion into our citizens’ personal freedoms.

    “That is why I fully support Attorney General Bill McCollum’s efforts to challenge the Constitutionality of a provision in the bill that mandates all Americans to purchase health insurance or face a fine.

    “Any individual mandate of this kind from the federal government is unconstitutional, a direct attack on our essential personal liberties, and vastly increases the power of Washington bureaucrats that far exceeds the proper role of government.

    “As I’ve stated before, once in the U.S. Senate, I will fight to repeal this government takeover of health care.”

  •  Will someone in NY slap Errol Lewis please? (0+ / 0-)

    If voters voted their hearts, 3rd parties would have a much better chance.  But our electoral system means that third party votes are usually wasted, so those of us who vote with our heads are stuck with the Dem/Rep paradigm.  Until we get instant run-off elections, most of us will continue to vote for the lesser of two evils.

  •  Republicans have abandoned even the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    APPEARANCE of having a political philosophy.

    Since the 1950s, Republicans have slowly and surely become a party of lunatics, standing for no core philosophy or values.

    Republicans manufacture 'values' on demand, as needed to rile up their brain dead base. They have all the benefit of modern media and propaganda at their fingertips, to make nonsense into some sort of Faux reality.

    Republicans don't espouse conservative values; they have no idea what conservatism is. In place of a political philosophy, Republicans find scapegoats for problems. They embrace dog whistles of xenophobia, fear, hate, racism, sexism, class warfare, religious conflict .. anything to cover for the fact they have no solutions [other than tax cuts for the rich, kill some people who don't look or sound like them, and "drill baby drill"] to where our planet is heading.  

    Meanwhile, Democrats have largely assumed the mantle of traditional conservatism and conservative capitalism.

    Clinton and Obama are both very good, solid ethical examples of modern conservatism at work. The wars we're in, the destruction of our environment, the failure of our educational system, and the massive inequalities in our economic system are a direct result of Democratic conservatism at work, a  Democratic Congress was complicit in bringing us Reaganonmics and is complicit in the wars we fight.

    The Democratic Party steadfastly refuses to take on the Bush Crime Family, refuses to prosecute corporate criminals.  

    I was marginally a Democrat 6 years ago, but I found myself leaving for the last time when Howard Dean's star faded out: Dean's ideals were progressive, even though make no mistake about this, Howard Dean is also a conservative.

    I'd be happy to see a truly ethical conservative government, that believed in rule of law, fairness in commerce and taxation, a reasonable expectation from industry that they make clear the Faustian bargains we must entail ourselves in to make the 'world go on'. I'd disagree with it still, but at least we could have honest discussions about what really matters for the future.

    But we can't even get THAT.

    The Democratic Party for the large part is not liberal, and is horribly bad at being ethically conservative.

    How to fight the fascist right? Register people to vote.

    by shpilk on Sun May 02, 2010 at 08:47:15 PM PDT

  •  Chaffee in RI (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    IMHO, Chaffee has a shot in RI. He's got a good name, and the GOP candidate is weak. He'll get points for leaving the GOP since its recent swing to the extreme right.

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