Last year, Minnesota jarred the country by electing a former professional wrestler governor. Adding juice to the jolt was the fact that Jesse Ventura was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Last year, Minnesota jarred the country by electing a former
professional wrestler governor. Adding juice to the jolt was the fact
that Jesse Ventura was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.
Now, as the 2000 presidential campaign approaches, many political
observers are wondering whether the whole country will experience a
Warren Beatty has publicly mulled running as an independent candidate
next year. Already, names such as Pat Buchanan, Donald Trump and Lowell
Weicker are cropping up as potential Reform Party nominees. Speculation
holds that Republican John McCain or Democrat Bill Bradley may set their
sights on the Reform Party nomination if their presidential nomination
On the plus side, the 2000 Reform Party nominee will not need Ross
Perot’s checkbook to be taken seriously because he or she will be
eligible to receive dollars 12.6 million in matching funds from the
Federal Election Commission.
The party is already on the ballot in 19 states, and its 1996 records
counted 1.3 million members.
New media environment
Another important element is the new media environment. Previous
communications innovations in this century were not productive initially
for third party candidates. Kenneth Campbell McKay noted in The
Progressive Movement of 1924 that Robert LaFollette’s managers
considered their opening campaign broadcast to be a bust when measuring
cost per listener.
Network television, of course, heightened the costs of running a truly
competitive national campaign. But the age of the Internet has arrived.
Phil Noble, publisher of online newsletter PoliticsOnline, argues that
if the advent of TV mortally wounded parties by allowing candidates to
appeal directly to voters rather than rely on party organizations, then
the Internet has been ’a shot in the head to the old-party system.’
Ross Perot’s 1996 running mate Pat Choate tells PRWeek that the
Internet, talk radio and cable TV could help an alternative candidate
spread his or her message without a huge investment. Today’s new media,
Choate says, can ’drive the cost down dramatically.
A candidate like Pat Buchanan can run a presidential race for as much as
a third of the dollars spent by the major candidates yet have nearly as
Noble says as long as a candidate like Beatty is treated seriously by
the news media (read: gets coverage) then ’all he has to do is look into
the news cameras and tell voters: ’If you like me, go to my web page.’
By doing that, like Jesse Ventura, the Internet can become the Intranet
of your campaign.’
The Internet can help the campaign communicate cheaply with volunteers,
even helping to organize the ballot placement drives in states. And not
only can the Reform Party nominee receive public campaign funds, but,
unlike the major party candidates, he can also do additional fundraising
Ventura made effective use of the Internet in his upset. But other
factors contributed to his upset victory, and not all of those will come
into play in a presidential election. First, Ventura gained credibility
by appearing in an extensive series of debates. While the other
candidates proved to be typical politicians, Ventura’s unsophisticated
and direct approach set him apart. But a Reform Party candidate has no
guarantee of getting into a debate and one or both of the major party
candidates will probably try to keep him out.
Age of discontent
Ironically, Ventura may have been helped by running in good times, which
runs counter to prevailing political theories. ’The discontent that
existed,’ says Saint Cloud State University political science professor
Steve Wagner - co-author of We Shocked the World, which examines
Ventura’s election - ’was more with the particular candidates than the
parties or the government.’ Thus, voters felt safe taking a risk on
Ventura media consultant Bill Hillsman concurs. Hillsman is actually an
anti-media consultant media consultant who criticizes the over reliance
on negative advertising by other consultants to drive voter turnout
His campaign was bolstered by Minnesota’s same-day registration law,
which allowed a large contingent of same-day registrants to cast
Ventura’s rise led his opponents to refrain from engaging in the
acid-tinged attacks on him that are more common in two-candidate races,
as they wanted to woo his swing vote. He continued to rise steadily in
the polls, offering voters a unique mix of socially liberal and
economically conservative policies.
As the Reform Party nominee, Ventura qualified for state public
financing which allowed him to air innovative advertising, such as radio
ads that said voters in 1860 discounted warnings that casting a vote for
Abraham Lincoln would be ’wasted,’ and encouraged Minnesotans to ignore
such prattle as well.
Hillsman argues that issues such as campaign finance reform can take
hold, particularly if the major party candidates are Bush and Gore, who
are tied to the big money givers of their parties. Experts have
pooh-poohed the appeal of reform issues before, but Hillsman thinks
there is a major constituency out there turned off by the excessive
partisanship and fundraising scandals that have occurred in
Not all agree. Fred Yang of Garin-Hart-Yang Research (Washington)
suggests the anti-politician mood was much stronger in the early 1990s.
Now, the public feels a deeper dissatisfaction with a society losing
touch with its core values, an issue harder to express politically.
While the public often expresses early support for third-party
candidates, experts say the desire becomes more muted when the choices
are better known. Buchanan and Beatty have bases tilted to the right and
left, respectively, notes political analyst Stuart Rothenberg. This
might limit their appeal.
Beatty, Trump and Buchanan can all deliver good sound bites, but none
have held office, a fact that still matters given that the race is for
the nation’s highest position.
Political scientist Dan Shea of Allegheny College, co-author of the
forthcoming book Political Parties in the Information Age, argues that
’the kids of the kids from the 1960s are being socialized to be
non-partisans.’ Odds are they will find their political preferences on
the Internet, which Noble predicts may help to spawn more third parties
in the future. Citing the Perot precedent, he suggests that the public
has long been ready for a more diverse party system.
Ready or not, the public in the Internet age may find their wishes