Hanging on the fringes but straddling the center

This was an item lost in the interim between Christmas and New Year’s, but there is still the threat of an independent candidacy siphoning votes away from a major-party nominee. And no, it’s not Donald Trump threatening to bolt if the GOP doesn’t elect him.

If you thought his withdrawal from the Democratic presidential race spelled the end of Jim Webb’s campaign, you may have thought wrong. He’s still pondering an independent run which has the potential to draw voters from both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, should he win the nomination. Polls suggest that Trump’s biggest base of support comes from voters who can’t vote in a Republican primary.

The dynamics of a third-party or independent run are always intriguing to me. While it’s rare to see one of those efforts succeed in a large-scale run – perhaps the best example is former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura – the thought that a moderately successful third-party candidate who gets 5 to 7 percent can swing the election scares both the major parties. There’s a scenario where I can see a Webb candidacy taking away more support from the Republican nominee than Hillary Clinton on the Democratic side: let’s say the nation is on war footing and desires a Presidential candidate with military experience that neither Clinton nor the GOP nominee could boast.

But the message Webb brings is one of populism – after all, his first issue is “economic fairness,” where he pits CEOs vs. workers and states “(t)he loopholes and exceptions that have evolved (in the tax code) have made a mockery out of true economic fairness.” This stance wasn’t all that different from his Democratic contenders, but Webb can also portray himself better as an outsider who was bipartisan enough to work under a Republican president but serve as a Democrat in the Senate. That could draw people from Hillary’s center, particularly those with a military or working-class background who believe Hillary is a creature of the Washington establishment.

Webb also points out that:

I have seen many people come to public service from highly successful careers in the business world, only to be devoured and humiliated by the demands of moving policy through the bureaucracy and then the Congress.

The administration of our government needs to be fixed. With the right leadership and the right sense of priorities, it can be.

This seems to be a statement directed at Donald Trump, and those who believe Trump can stroll right into the White House and clean up government should take heed. It’s a good way to temper expectations.

The obvious difference between the primary and general elections, moreover, is the impact non-affiliated voters can have. If Trump doesn’t get the nomination and decides to forgo the independent run, you’ll have a candidate from the extreme left and another certain to be painted in the media as being from the extreme right. Jim Webb may only get five percent, but the question becomes where that five percent comes from – Hillary or the Republican.

With ten months to go before the election, all this may be academic as one major-party candidate or the other wins outright and Webb becomes just a cipher in the overall race with a percent or two. But those of us who recall the Bush-Gore 2000 saga aren’t going to discount the possibility of a Ralph Nader spoiler in the race just yet. Al Gore lost because his challenge was from the Left, so who could be affected with a 2016 run from the center?

The monkey wrench in the system

In writing a future post, I got kind of curious about the field for the 2016 U.S. Senate race Maryland will have. It’s presumed Barb Mikulski, the 30-year incumbent who will be a new octogenarian by the time the election is decided, will run for yet another term but there’s this former governor who might be looking for a new gig once his quixotic attempt at the Oval Office peters out.

In either case, there’s been very little talk on the Republican side about trying for a Hogan-style upset in another statewide race. But there is a candidate who’s already filed with an interesting approach; one which has a slim potential of upsetting the apple cart like Rob Sobhani did in 2012.

I say it’s a slim potential because Greg Dorsey, the candidate in question, is fresh off a write-in campaign for Delegate where he gathered 128 votes in District 43 – a scant 0.2% of the vote that placed him 139 votes behind the aggregate total of all the other write-ins. His candidacy was the minor speed bump on the highway to victory for the three Democrats who were on the ballot.

Dorsey, however, is an avowed and unapologetic unaffiliated candidate, one who has created what he calls The Unaffiliated Movement of America. In decrying “the system” Greg postulates that:

Our two party system seems to be played out like a sporting event.  There is a red team and there is a blue team, and each time they collectively step onto the playing field (ie., voting on and creating legislation), their team goal is to win at all cost, to take the victory and retain league dominance.  They sometimes win fairly and by the rules, and sometimes they cheat.  A quick rib strike here, a calf/achilles stomp there, aggressive trash talking, jersey holding, you name it, and all behind the referee’s line of vision even though the spectators have a clear view.  And sometimes, with impulsive and subjective emotions on the line, a player will blatantly cheat with such malicious intent that they are penalized and removed from the game.

I’m sort of guessing Dorsey is a soccer player based on the analogy, but this is an increasingly widespread view. I’ll grant that promoting a book by Jesse Ventura on his site isn’t going to win Dorsey a ton of converts on this side of the fence, but if nothing else Ventura stands as a blueprint for an unaffiliated candidate to be elected.

I used Sobhani as an example because, for Dorsey to get on the ballot he would have to use the same petition approach and solicit the signatures of 1% of Maryland’s registered voters – that would be roughly 40,000 signatures required. In essence, Sobhani self-financed that part of his campaign which presumably Dorsey cannot do – otherwise he probably would have been on the District 43 ballot (and may have stood a slim chance of winning with no Republicans on the ballot given his conservative-leaning platform.)

It may take time on the GOP side, but considering the 2016 ballot will be just like the 2012 ballot (primarily federal races, including a Senate seat) we may see one or two ambitious members of the Maryland General Assembly try a statewide run from the cover of a legislative seat. Recent examples of this are State Senator C. Anthony Muse running against Ben Cardin in the 2012 Democratic primary and former State Senator E.J. Pipkin getting the GOP nomination in 2004 but losing to Mikulski in November. I could see at least one General Assembly Republican giving it a go, and maybe there will be a Democrat who sticks his or her neck out – on that front all bets are off if Mikulski decides to retire.

So it may be later this spring before the race begins to take shape, but there’s not a lot of time to waste as the primary will be April 5, 2016. Dorsey may be first to file but I suspect he will have a lot of company by the filing deadline next January.