Yesterday Florida Governor Charlie Crist announced he was leaving the GOP to run for the U.S. Senate as an independent as polls continue to show him trailing Marco Rubio badly in the Republican primary. However, those same polls showed that either Rubio or Crist would beat Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek easily in November. But, Crist running as an independent makes a three way race competitive for any of the three candidates.
His move to capture the political center is not the only high profile race in which this is happening. At the state level, both Massachusetts and Rhode Island are seeing strong gubernatorial bids by independent candidates. In both of these cases, the independent candidates are portraying themselves as the candidate who best represents the political middle. In addition, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman toyed with the idea of running for governor as an independent before bowing out in January. In Michigan, former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz created an exploratory campaign in March to run for governor as an independent.
Tim Cahill (www.timforgovernor.com), the current Massachusetts State Treasurer, likely dropped his Democratic registration to run as an independent because it would be tough to beat incumbent Democratic Governor Deval Patrick (www.devalpatrick.com) in a Democratic primary. Instead, a three way race between Cahill, Patrick and Republican Charlie Baker (www.charliebaker2010.com) or Christy Mihos (www.christy2010.com) makes this three way race a toss up. Without Cahill in the race, many handicappers believe this is a pick up opportunity for Republicans because of Patrick’s perceived unpopularity. In fact, Republicans still think this is a winnable race as the Republican Governors’ Association (RGA) has created a website (www.thecahillreport.com) to put their spin on the Cahill candidacy.
Former Republican U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee (www.chafeeforgovernor.com) has also dumped his party label to run for governor as an independent. As in Massachusetts, a three way race makes the general election match-ups very close against Republican John Robitaille (www.robitailleforgovernor.com) and Democrats Patrick Lynch (www.lynch2010.com) or Frank Caprio (www.frankcaprio.com).
Odds of Success
While these candidates are all running as “antidotes” to the two party system, how likely is a victory in a year where most voters have been expressing serious doubt about both parties? While rare, a few independent or third party candidates have won gubernatorial races in the past. In 1990, Lowell Weicker won a three way race in Connecticut after being defeated for re-election to the U.S. Senate as a Republican just two years earlier. In Maine, Angus King was elected in 1994 and Jesse Ventura was elected by Minnesotans in 1998.
However, last year’s gubernatorial race in New Jersey illustrates the more common outcome for an independent run. There, incumbent Governor Jon Corzine was challenged by both the Republican Chris Christie as well as independent Chris Daggett. While Daggett polled close to twenty percent just weeks before the election, he was never perceived as a potential winner in the race and his support evaporated as people decided to choose between the contenders. He ended up with about six percent of the vote.
That is always going to be the challenge for any independent candidate. They need to stay close in the polls to be considered a potential winner to keep raising money. The party candidates can rely on the resources of their party to carry them through to the election. Will Chafee, Cahill and possibly Schwarz be able to do that? We will have to wait for a few more months to find out.
Steve Arthur, firstname.lastname@example.org