Rise of new third party could jeopardize GOP chances in November

The political world may be focused on Iowa this week, but the GOP would be wise to start paying attention to Americans Elect, a group formed to place a third-party candidate on the ballot in every state in 2012. The group leaped from mere novelty act to serious movement two weeks ago when it successfully qualified for the general election ballot in California, a state with 55 electoral votes. The group already had qualified candidates for ballots in 11 smaller states. California’s achievement by Americans Elect showed it has the organizational strength to gather signatures in even the largest, and more influential, states.

Consequently, Americans Elect could be the single biggest threat to a unified Republican front against incumbent President Barack Obama in November.

Americans Elect was formed last summer by a coalition of moderate Democrats and Republicans who were not satisfied with the current two-party system. They have raised $22 million so far with a goal of raising $35 million, which they believe is enough to make them viable, according to published reports. They have not disclosed their donors, justifying their secrecy by saying they do not want them retaliated against in any way.

“Ballot access in California is a major milestone in achieving ballot access in all 50 states,” said Kellen Arno, Executive Director of Ballot Access for Americans Elect. “Submitting 1.62 million signatures in California, a politically complex and diverse state, is testimony to the fact that Californians are looking for a better choice in the electoral process and one that will put an end to partisan gridlock in Washington.”

Americans Elect describes itself as a group seeking “the first nonpartisan nomination” that will “use the Internet to break the gridlock in Washington, open up the political process and give every single voter — Democrat, Republican or independent — the power to nominate a presidential ticket in 2012.”

Every registered voter can be a delegate. Beginning in April, the group will hold a series of nominating contests to narrow the prospective field of candidates to six. Then, in June, there will be another series of nominating ballots, according to the group, to pick a nominee. The running mate must then be someone who is not from the same political party as the nominee. The ticket will then be on the ballot in all 50 states.

Americans Elect has many prominent board members. Peter Ackerman, a New York financier, seeded the initial money and is board chairman and his son Eliot is chief operations officer. Both are usually associated with liberal progressive causes. There is no board member who would be considered a conservative, but left-leaning former New Jersey Gov.
Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican, is a board member.

Other board members include: Dennis Blair, who was President Obama’s Director of National Intelligence; Kahlil Byrd, who worked for liberal Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick; Irvine O. Hockaday Jr., a moderate Republican; Joshua Levine, who was E*TRADE’s chief technological officer;  Wendy Drake, who is associated with The Webster Group, which does fundraising for a variety of groups and causes; Stephen Bosworth, who was Ambassador to Korea under Bill Clinton.

The group’s CEO, Kahlil Byrd, has raised some eyebrows among Republicans because he was Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick’s Communications Director. Patrick shared the same chief strategist, David Axelrod, as President Obama.

Americans Elect also has a leadership team that advises it that is composed of many left-leaning individuals, among them are Lynn Forester de Rothschild, who is a prominent Hillary Clinton backer, Will Marshall of the Progressive Policy Institute and Doug Schoen, a former pollster and adviser to Bill Clinton.

A mid- December survey by Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina polling organization that earned credibility in the 2009-10 elections, shows how a three-candidate race would benefit Obama.

The poll showed that without a third party, Mitt Romney beat Obama 47 percent to 45 percent. But, when a third-party candidate was added, in a hypothetical general election matchup, Obama did better in every scenario.

For example, in that scenario, when Obama faced Romney and Ron Paul, Obama got 42 percent of the vote to Romney’s 37 and Paul’s 17.  When Obama faced Romney and Michael Bloomberg, Obama got 43 percent of the vote to Romney’s 41 and Bloomberg’s 8. When Obama faced Romney and Jon Huntsman, Obama got 43 percent of the vote to Romney’s 37 and Huntsman’s 11. And when Obama faced Romney and Donald Trump, Obama got 45 percent of the vote to Romney’s 31 and Trump’s 19.

As the GOP primary season officially gets started this week, Republicans, who have not engaged the issue so far, would be wise to not underestimate Americans Elect, or be too slow to react.