Are independent candidates forming a new coalition with the Democratic Party?
In 2002 Reform Party Governor Jesse Ventura appointed Dean Barkley as U.S. Senator. While in the Senate Barkley refused to caucus with either party but an analysis of his voting record by the non-partisan ideology site www.Ontheissues.com characterized his voting record and stances on the issues as “Libertarian Liberal” a category more at home in the Democratic Party.
In the 2006 midterm elections two independent Senators were elected to serve. One was Senator Joe Lieberman and the other was Senator Bernie Sanders. Both, despite being elected as independents, caucused with the Democratic Party. Lieberman had previously been a Democrat but broke with the party over his support of the Iraq War. Bernie Sanders characterized himself as a Socialist and had been an independent candidate for some time. Both came from different parts of the political spectrum but both ultimately caucused with the Democratic Party.
In 2001 a Republican Senator from Vermont, Jim Jeffords, switched his party affiliation to become an independent. Once he became an independent he caucused with the Democratic Party.
More recently there is the case of Charlie Crist. Charlie Crist was the Republican Governor of Florida until 2010 when he switched his party affiliation and became an independent in order to run for an open Senate seat. During the race Crist strongly implied he would caucus with the Democratic Party if he were elected. Democrats were so sure Crist would caucus with the them that President Bill Clinton called the Democratic candidate asking him to withdraw from the race shortly before the election. Crist went on to lose the election but is now running in Florida’s Governor’s race as a Democrat.
Crist is not the only former independent to become a Democrat. Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee changed his party affiliation to Democrat after being an independent for the last seven years. In 2014 several candidates who are running as independents have joined forces with the Democrat party.
Kansas independent candidate Greg Orman obtained a small lead over longtime Republican incumbent Senator Pat Roberts after Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out of the race. Conventional wisdom suggests Orman will caucus with the Democratic Party if elected to the Senate. This is supported by the fact that Orman considered running in 2008 as a Democrat and voted for Barack Obama the same year.
In South Dakota a similar situation is developing. In that race the Republican candidate is former Governor Mike Rounds who served two terms leaving the Governor’s office in 2011. The Democratic candidate is Rick Weiland a former member of FEMA and aide to former Senator Tom Daschle. Finally, there is independent candidate Larry Pressler, a former three term Republican Senator, who represented South Dakota in Congress from 1975 to 1997.
Pressler has gained considerably on Rounds and the race is now in play. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has decided to spend 1 million in anti-Rounds attacks, an effort that could help Pressler as much as it could help Weiland. There is reason to believe Pressler will also caucus with the Democrats if he wins. He endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012.
In Alaska the Democratic nominee for Governor dropped out of the race to become the Lieutenant Governor of the independent Candidate Bill Walker.
On the other hand, Republicans are having serious problems with third party candidates in a number of key races. In Florida a Libertarian candidate has nearly 7 percent of the vote in the hotly contested gubernatorial race. In the North Carolina Senate Race a Libertarian has garnered nearly 6 percent of the vote while in the Georgia Senate Race a Libertarian has captured about 4 percent of the vote. A similar dynamic is at play in Governor’s races in both Arizona and Georgia.
The 2008 and 2012 Ron Paul presidential campaigns, as well as the 2010 election of Rand Paul to the Senate, brought out the Libertarian electorate. Unfortunately for the Republican Party, this has not always translated into support for Republican candidates and has actually been detrimental in a number of key races. In 2014 Libertarian third party candidates could cost Republicans key seats in 4 races. On the flipside, the Democratic/independent alliance could allow Democrats to win 4 key races they otherwise would be unable to win.
In Tennessee Republicans have managed to avoid Libertarian candidates catching fire with the electorate. No Libertarian candidate for statewide office has received over 2 percent of the vote since at least 1998, despite having a line on the ballot.
Democrats have managed to find a way to woo independent candidates to their side. This has been the case since the early 2000’s but has reached a fevered pitch in the coming 2014 mid-term election. Without Democrats aligning themselves with independent candidates the U.S Senate would likely be already lost. If Republicans found a way to use that tactics with Libertarian candidates they would have a much easier time winning close elections.