From the "Non-Majority Rule" Desk: Murkowski's Write-in Candidacy and Other Significant Third Party Candidates

by Chris Marchsteiner, The Non-Majority Rule Desk // Published September 22, 2010


Here's our regular update from the non-majority rule desk -- tracking elections across the country where plurality rules are having a negative impact on voters.

Third party and independent candidates continue to have a major impact on several statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate. Indeed, there are 8 states where candidates are polling at more than 10% - the latest being Lisa Murkowski, the sitting U.S. Senator from Alaska who lost her Republican primary, but who now is pursuing a write-in candidacy. At least one race might join them – New York, where Rick Lazio lost the Republican primary for governor, but remains the Conservative Party nominee. Voters certainly seem hungry for more options -- a Gallup poll found that 58% support a strong third party in the United States. Here’s a rundown of some of the week’s news from the “non-majority rule” desk.

In Colorado, there was a significant development this week in the gubernatorial race when the Colorado Independent announced that American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo overtook his Republican opponent, Dan Maes, in fundraising by an 8 to 1 margin in the last two weeks. However, at a total of $3 million, Democratic candidate John Hickenlooper has raised 6 times as much as his two conservative opponents combined. Polls have been erratic in the race. One has Hickenlooper leading with 49% over Maes and Tancredo with 32% and 17% respectively. Another poll shows Tancredo and Maes much closer. Tancredo’s effect on the race is clear: by splitting the conservative vote, the two conservative candidates fight between one another while the Democrat safely crosses the finish line ahead.

In Rhode Island, independent Lincoln Chafee continues to be a competitive candidate in a very close race for governor -- polls are conflicting, but Rasmussen had him leading with 33% this week. In Maine’s gubernatorial race, Independent Eliot Cutler polls at 11% -- too low to have a chance to win at this point, but combined with 5% for other third party candidates, more than enough to affect whether Republican Paul LePage or Democrat Libby Mitchell wins. 

The intense three-way U.S. Senate race in Florida is turning exceptionally negative according to many accounts from local newspapers. Crist, once one of the most popular governors in the country, has gone after opponents Kendrick Meek and Marco Rubio with negative ads to divert both Democratic and Republican votes. Republican candidate Rubio is leading the race for now with 41%; Crist and Meek trail with 34% and 23%. The Massachusetts gubernatorial race is also growing exceedingly nasty; the Boston Globe reports that independent Tim Cahill and Republican Charlie Baker were “carving each other up on live television” as Cahill attempted to woo conservatives while maintaining Democratic support as well. Incumbent Democrat Deval Patrick was left mostly unscathed, although he is losing votes on his left to the Green Party’s Jill Stein. The result of additional candidates, regardless of partisanship, is that negative campaigning is encouraged as each tries to make it to the top of the polls while the frontrunner can portray an “above the fray” image. Thus, the effect of vote-splitting is self-reinforcing. 

We’ve mentioned the possibility of Lisa Murkowski running as a third party candidate in the Alaska U.S. Senate race. She has now announced her write-in campaign, which will be plagued from the start by an angry Republican establishment throwing its full support behind Republican Joe Miller. The single-mindedness of the GOP can be attributed to the deep-rooted fear that she will split the vote and deliver a victory to the Democrats – not opposition to her potential win if given a chance to offer herself to voters. Republicans have even threatened to strip Murkowski of her leadership position in the Senate.

For FairVote, instant runoff voting remains the answer to such debates about “spoilers” and potentially undemocratic outcomes. It continues to get more attention as a viable option in our elections, including in a thoughtful commentary this week in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by James P. Lenfestey.