Are third party candidates relevant?

6:57 PM, Oct 10, 2006   |    comments
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Republicans and Democrats get most of the attention – and the headlines – leading up to the November election. And, this November, third-party candidates are trailing far behind their GOP and DFL opponents, according to most polls. But Peter Hutchinson, the Independence Party’s candidate for governor, said Minnesotans who are looking for change still look toward third parties. He said third parties won’t go away until they change politics significantly or they knock out one of the two main parties in power. "That’s what the Republicans did," he said. "The Republicans were actually a third party 150 years ago, when they won and threw the Whig Party out forever." In Minnesota, Hutchinson said the Farmer-Labor Party changed politics significantly when it merged with the Democratic Party. "The Farmer-labor Party won and won and won," he said. "And then they merged with the Democrats. So that’s the second choice – the third party changes the politics." Hutchinson currently is trailing far behind his opponents, Republican incumbent Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Mike Hatch. Polls show Hutchinson garnering only five to 10 percent of the vote. In the 2002 election, the Independence Party’s Tim Penny won 16.2 percent of the vote. And in 1998, Jesse Ventura, of the Reform Party won 37 percent of the vote – and the election. Hutchinson thinks Minnesota voters, this year, have the same attitude as voters in 1998. "We’ve got a tough economy, people are anxious, they hate politics, they’re ready for a change. And that has not been satisfied yet. The demand is still there." Hutchinson said, between now and November 7, voters will see and hear much more of him, in the form of TV ads. He was asked about the relevance of third parties in an interview shot Tuesday afternoon. More of that interview will air later this month, as part of a KARE11 News Extra profiling the major candidates in the race for governor. Just 28 days before the election the Independence Party's candidate for the 5th congressional district, Tammy Lee, could be found at the Monte Carlo cafe in downtown Minneapolis addressing a business lunch crowd. She's raising money and votes. "It's on the home page and it's all over the blogs, which is driving Democrats crazy!" Lee told the group of the snapshot she took with incumbent DFL Congressman Martin Sabo. She's hoping to tap into those Democrats who didn't vote for Keith Ellison in the DFL primary September 12th, and those Republicans who aren't planning to vote for the GOP candidate in the race Alan Fine. "We've had the good fortune of a lot of moderate democrats and moderate republicans who have coalesced around my campaign," Lee said on Tuesday. Although she worked for Democratic candidates before entering the business world seven years ago she views herself as an independent now. "I’m a social progressive, but working in business the last 7 years makes me much more a fiscal moderate." The snapshot with Sabo, now posted on her website and in campaign fliers is especially significant because Sabo's chief of staff Mike Erlandson was one of the Democrats Ellison defeated in the primary. "I think he felt comfortable with me as a candidate. He did not endorse me, but he gave me permission to use the photo." You've seen the Independence Party candidate for U.S. Senate Robert Fitzgerald share the debate stage with Republican Mark Kennedy and Democrat Amy Klobuchar. Because the party has captured more than five percent of the vote in the last several statewide elections it is classified as a "major" party in Minnesota. The party's candidates are automatically placed on the ballot and qualify for matching funds from the state of Minnesota. Tuesday night Fitzgerald, of Rothsay, was slated to be part of a Senate debate with Klobuchar and Kennedy in Moorhead. Another Independence candidate attempting to emerge from the shadows of the big two is 27-year-old John Binkowski of Saint Mary's Point. He's running in the 6th District congressional race, which in most media accounts is portrayed as a battle between two women, Michele Bachmann and Patty Wetterling. "I don't think we're going to get anything better from the other two parties than what we're gotten. We've gotten gridlock," Binkowski said Tuesday when asked why he's running. He's a construction manager, college student and fiscal hawk who dares to call for means testing as a way to save Social Security and help balance the federal budget. "I think there needs to be some means testing for social security. There needs to be a horse to pull the cart. I’m paying into social security without much hope of getting anything back. That’s fine, I’m happy to do it because I know that somebody has to." He added, "But then on the other end I would ask for those who are going to make it through retirement without needing it to help solve this." Binkowski can't raise the money it will take to mount a television ad campaign but he hopes to get his message to the voters. On the perennial question about whether a vote for a longshot is a wasted vote? "Heck no!" He says the two parties simply aren't delivering what the people expect from government. "We've gotten parties that are more than happy to divide people into colors into red and blue. Come on, this is ridiculous! We're Americans. Let's say hey, let's stand up, let's say Minnesota deserves better." Even if an independent is elected to Congress, critics point out, he or she will still have to work with Republicans and Democrats to accomplish anything. Tammy Lee sees the dynamic the other way around. In a tightly divided Congress an independent can become a swing vote or a tie-breaker. And with that position comes power. By John Croman and Scott Goldberg, KARE 11 News.

(Copyright 2006 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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