1) Lincoln Chafee (I-RI) – In 2006, Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee lost a close race for re-election against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. Saying, “It’s not my party anymore,” in 2007 a disenchanted Chafee left the Republican Party due to its increasing conservatism. The politician went searching for a party, disagreeing with the Green and Libertarian Parties while finding the name of the Moderate Party “too squishy.” Finally, in 2010 Chafee decided to run for Governor as an Independent. His strategy is interesting, running to the left of Democrat Frank Caprio and Republican John Robitaille. In fact, Chafee is explicitly running with the idea of increasing taxes to salvage Rhode Island’s fiscal problems.
Despite being forthright with his political positions, Chafee is a serious contender for the office of Governor. He has garnered numerous high-profile endorsements in the race. Among these are Independent NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the National Education Association, and the SEIU. Beyond this, many notable groups on the left of the political spectrum have elected to remain neutral in the race, including the AFL-CIO.
Although Chafee is no longer the clear frontrunner as he was in previous months, the Independent is still polling competitively. The last scientific poll of the race by Quest had Chafee trailing Caprio 36-24 with Robitaille further behind at 13%. However, a recent Rasmussen poll tells a different story, with Chafee narrowly leading Caprio 33-30 and Robitaille with 24% of the vote. Nate Silver’s 538 currently pegs Chafee with a 29.9% chance of victory.
[Update: As of this posting today a new Fleming & Associates poll came out with Chafee trailing Caprio 33-30]
2) Tom Tancredo (CP-CO) – After running for President in 2008 on a platform of ending illegal immigration, Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo tried his hand at political power-broker. He vigorously backed former Rep. Scott McInnis for the Colorado gubernatorial nomination. For months, all went according to plan. That was when the plagiarism charges hit. Suddenly Tancredo, who once urged tea partiers to work within the Republican Party, was going rogue. He took the place of the Constitution Party candidate on the ballot and launched a crusade against McInnis, eventual nominee Dan Maes, and Democrat John Hickenlooper.
It is now apparent that Tancredo is serious about his bid. Despite his sudden and unexpected entry into the race, the outspoken candidate managed to haul in $200,000 and $120k for the last two financial quarters. In addition, it doesn’t look like the money will stop coming soon, with his fundraisers bringing in prominent conservatives for support. Even though Hickenlooper is still outraising the Constitution Party candidate, Tancredo is remaining competitive in the money race.
More than anything else Tancredo has been abetted by the collapse of his Republican opponent. Maes has wracked up multiple fines for campaign finance violations. In addition, the Denver Post exposed some mischaracterizations of his time as a Kansas police officer. Fundraising for the Republican, in the process of being abandoned by legislators and activists throughout his party, has been decidedly anemic with hauls of $50k and $14k.
Tancredo seems to recognize his one path to victory: Joe Lieberman. If Maes is completely marginalized, Tancredo can consolidate the conservative vote and work on pulling over Independents to move into a heat with Hickenlooper. Unsurprisingly, Tancredo has relentlessly attacked Maes on the airwaves. The key is timing: Rasmussen’s last three polls of the race show Tancredo’s share of the vote steadily rising from 14% t0 25% to 34%. Maes, meanwhile, has shown commensurate drops in support. The problem is that election day is rapidly approaching as Hickenlooper sits on a commanding lead in every poll of the race. Maes’ support has to completely bottom out for Tancredo to win, and fast.
3) Tom Horner (IP-MN) – Decades ago Tom Horner was the Chief of Staff for moderate GOP Senator Dave Durenberger. After years involved in political strategy and public relations, Horner is finally seeking office himself. The twist? He has abandoned his old party, which he believes has become too ideological, and become the candidate of the Minnesota Independence Party.
The Minnesota IP is one of the strongest third parties in the country (on a statewide level), second only to the Vermont Progressive Party. Its candidates have shown strong runs in the past, from Dean Barkley’s 15% showing in the 08 senatorial race to the infamous Jesse Ventura.
But Horner is not a typical IP candidate. Despite Republican Tom Emmer’s recent endorsement by the Chamber of Commerce, Horner has serious ties to the business community. He also has the support of some prominent moderates in the state, including his former Senator and former Governor Arne Carlson. Finally, it looks as if the Minnesota Star-Tribune is all-but poised to endorse Horner come October. Taking all of these developments together, Horner may be able to use this perceived legitimacy to open enough fundraising spigots for competitive advertising.
The polls seem to have responded to Horner’s growing support. Both SUSA a recent PRSA poll for the Strib peg Horner with 18% support. The only outlier is Rasmussen, which in its last poll pegged Horner at 9%. Oddly, the PRSA and Rasmussen poll were conducted during roughly the same time period, although the latter continued using controversial one-day samples for their poll. However, even the PRSA poll shows that Horner only has “Strong Support” from 2% of those polled.
Success also poses a new danger for Horner. Both Republicans and Democrats are beginning to lash out at the Independence Party candidate. If large direct mail and advertising buys push down Horner’s favorables, the candidate could face danger among his softer support.
This entire race seems to hang on legitimacy for Horner. If Horner can fundraise strongly through November, pull off strong debate performances, and win the Strib’s endorsement, he has an outsider’s shot at being the next Governor. If he falters by any of these measures, he will likely fade away and be perceived as a wasted vote.
[As of the day of this posting another poll of the race came out, placing Horner at 16% support.
4) Scott Lee Cohen (I-IL) – It looks like the former Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee is making another splash in Illinois politics with his Independent bid for Governor. The dynamics of this race are interesting. The Democrat, incumbent Pat Quinn, has significant negative approval ratings; the Republican is practically unknown, but leading because…. well, he is not Pat Quinn.
Enter Scott Lee Cohen, campaigning as the crusader for the common man screaming “Jobs! jobs! jobs!” A multi-millionaire, Scott Lee Cohen has declared that he will spend whatever it takes to win. He has already started significant radio and television advertising buys, focusing on the job fairs he is hosting.
Cohen’s only negative? His past. There is a reason he is the former Lieutenant Governor nominee, and the accusations leveled at him are significant enough to destroy any traditional politician’s career. Then again, Cohen doesn’t appear to be a traditional politican.
Cohen also has another problem: third parties. Green Rich Whitney has been campaigning hard to capitalize on a 10% showing in the gubernatorial race in 2006. In addition, Libertarian Lex Green is running to the right of Brady. This undermines some of the strength of Cohen among protest voters in the state.
His support has been very fluid, but it does appear to be growing. A CNN/Opinion Research poll put Cohen at a surprising 14% in its last poll of the race. At the same time, a PPP poll put the candidate at 6%. The only other poll to include Cohen had the candidate at 5% some time back. Either way, with growing amounts of advertising and media attention Cohen has the potential to shake up the gubernatorial race. The question becomes 1) when the DGA or other groups begin to attack Cohen (he seems to pull strongest from liberal and centrist Independent types) and 2) how much stock voters put in the past accusations leveled at the candidate. If neither of these problems significantly materializes, Cohen will likely post an extremely strong showing on election day.
5) Eliot Cutler (I-ME) – This candidate probably has the longest resume in the Maine gubernatorial race. A lifelong Democrat, Cutler has worked as an aide to former Senator Muskie and a high-level official in President Jimmy Carter’s OMB. Now, he is an Independent candidate for Governor.
Money has not been a significant problem for Cutler. He has been willing to self-fund his campaign, maintaining financial parity with his major party opponents. However, Cutler has also managed to raise significant contributions as well, something critical for any viable run for office.
Cutler has also had a boon in Democrat Libby Mitchell’s position on debates. Mitchell refuses to debate if Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott are excluded from a debate, so Cutler has had several opportunities to take on Republican Paul LePage alone.
Yet Mitchell has a decidedly sound reason for avoiding debates, which may prove Cutler’s downfall. Recent polls of the race, excluding Rasmussen, have shown Cutler’s support eroding from the high double-digits he once exhibited. Among these are PPP, pegging Cutler at 11%, Critical Insights with Cutler at 11% and 9%, and a recent Mitchell internal at 10%. So why does Rasmussen still peg Cutler at 14%? They leave out Independents Shawn Moody and Kevin Scott, who are occupying an increasingly greater share of the vote as election day approaches. With mulitple Independents in the running, Mitchell hopes to fracture Cutler’s support among non-affiliated voters.
Mitchell herself is Cutler’s second problem. Both Mitchell and Cutler have attempted to posture themselves as the anti-LePage candidate, moderates crusading against Tea Party zealotry. However, both candidates are having trouble effectively consolidating this potentially viable constituency with the other’s presence in the race.
Simply put, it appears that Cutler has lost the momentum to reach the Blaine House in November. However, he will still likely post a strong showing on election day.
6) Tim Cahill (I-MA) – Once upon a time, Tim Cahill was the Democratic Treasurer of Massachusetts. Now, he has become an Independent and is taking on the man he endorsed for Governor in 2006, Deval Patrick.
Early on in the race Cahill was actually a prohibitive frontrunner, with Republican Charlie Baker running further behind the Independent candidate and Patrick. However, the RGA shrewdly launched a massive advertising buy to drive down Cahill’s position at the polls.
The attempt was successful. Cahill has had little chance to break out in the polls since the attack ads ran. Instead of his early support of 30%, Cahill instead has exhibited support of 5% (Rasmussen), 14%, 11%, and 16% in the last polls of the race since mid-September. Instead, frontrunner status has fallen to an increasingly tightening race between Republican Charlie Baker and Patrick. The reason why these relatively strong numbers for a third party candidate are not strongly lauded here is the problem of momentum. Horner’s poll numbers have surged in recent weeks from low to high double-digits. However, Cahill has been steadily hemorrhaging support.
Other signs point to waning strength from the campaign. Most prominently, Cahill recently lost a prominent advisor and his campaign manager. The reason? The perceived inevitable loss of the campaign. Unlike Horner, Cahill does not have a clear path to victory. The Independent candidate is running to the right, but Charlie Baker has already consolidated much of the conservative base with significant outside support. In addition, Baker was already considered a moderate within the party, so occupying the center would similarly prove difficult for Cahill. The RGA continues to pound Cahill with negative advertising, underscoring the problem.
There is one area where Cahill does not have significant challenges: money. As of September 20th Cahill had raised $1.6 million in the race. In addition, a recent fundraiser for the candidate pulled in about $125k. Cahill did take public funding to garner an extra $750k. However, if his opponents spend more than $1.5 million (which is all but assured) he can match their spending. Cahill’s challenge is to somehow turn his financial parity and Independent label into votes as the race tightens before election day.
[Update: As of the day of this posting another Rasmussen poll came out placing Cahill at 6%. In addition, his running mate Republican state rep Paul Loscocco has dropped off of Cahill’s ticket, endorsing Republican Charlie Baker.]
7) John Monds (LP-GA) – In a party that is sometimes criticized for its homogeneity, John Monds is a breath of fresh air. The former president of his local NAACP, Monds is the first black candidate for Governor who will appear on the general election ballot in Georgia. He ran for PSC Commissioner in 2008, pulling over 1 million votes in a two-way race with a Republican.
Monds decided to run for Governor on the heels of that relatively successful run for a minor party. He benefits from a strange consequence of Georgia ballot access law; because the party is essentially prevented from running candidates for US House, the Georgia LP can focus greater resources on its statewide candidates for Governor and Senate. Combined with some sound campaigning and advertising, the party has done a significant amount of work to build itself a brand in Georgia politics.
Nevertheless, much of Monds’ potential has little to do with the candidate or his party. Instead, much thanks must go towards Republican Nathan Deal. It appears that the candidate has had significant financial problems in recent years, potentially souring his image to fiscally conservative voters.
Monds’ biggest problem is a lack of substantial funding. Despite waging a vigorous campaign in a favorable climate, large-scale advertising is critical in any statewide race. Except for SUSA showing the candidate at 9%, every other poll has consistently placed Monds at 5% support in the race. Nevertheless, the electoral environment may be ripe for a strong Libertarian showing in Georgia.
[Update: As of this posting another poll has come out pegging Monds at (you guessed it) 5%]
8) Shawn Moody (I-ME) – Early on, nobody paid any attention to this campaign. A self-made businessman, many derided Moody as simply advertising his growing company via politics. Nevertheless, the candidate jumped into the business of campaigning for Governor.
It didn’t hurt when Shawn Moody tossed $500, o00 of his own money into his fledgling gubernatorial campaign. He also managed to snag the endorsement of the former chairman of the state GOP [in fairness, Cutler also found a few endorsees among sitting Democratic legislators].
Now, the candidate is starting to see results at the polls. The last PPP poll of the race found Moody at 5%, as did Critical Insights. his strongest result had been an internal from the Mitchell camp, pegging him at 8%.
Moody still has to contend with a crowded Independent field, including #6 on our list. Nevertheless, the candidate still has space to grow as election day approaches.
9) Kathie Glass (LP-TX) – A Houston trial lawyer, Glass won the Libertarian nomination for Governor of Texas in a bit of an upset over former nominee Jeff Daiell during the party’s convention in June. Now, the candidate is criss-crossing the state and buying radio advertising to inform voters about her campaign.
Glass’ biggest boon is Rick Perry. The incumbent Republican Governor, who was forced to contend with insurgent conservatives in both the 2006 gubernatorial race (supporting Kinky Friedman and Strayhorn) and his 2010 Republican primary (in the form of Debra Medina), now refuses to debate his opponents. This has given Glass the opportunity to debate in Perry’s place as the ‘true conservative’ in the race. She has already appeared with Democrat Bill White at several forums (and one debate). In addition, she will soon be on television statewide due to a recent opportunity opened by Perry’s recalcitrance to participate.
Glass’ biggest barrier is probably money. Without it, she cannot tap into a discontent Texas electorate and gain the legitimacy she needs to really contend with her two major opponents. Another possible route to viability would be Debra Medina’s endorsement- something that does not seem to be in the picture.
10) Jill Stein (GP-MA) – A longtime activist, Green-Rainbow Party nominee Jill Stein has several runs for office in Massachusetts under her belt. Now, she is running for Governor.
At first glance it would seem that Stein’s bid would be irrelevant for those observing minor party politics. She has never cracked 4% in a major statewide race, and fundraising is always a major problem for insurgent candidates.
Nevertheless, this year the Green Party nominee has raised almost $125k, barely missing the threshold for public funding. In addition, with the fundraising spike Stein will participate in most debates.
Polling has not caught up. The last polls to include her by name found her support at 4%, 4%, and 3%. Nevertheless, Stein has the potential to register an impact in the Massachusetts race for Governor.
Rich Whitney (GP-IL) – This is one candidate who, despite doing everything right, may still suffer at the polls. In 2006 Rich Whitney ran for Governor of Illinois as a Green, pulling in a strong 10% of the vote. Unsurprisingly, he decided to run again in 2010, criss-crossing the state in a bid to attract voters to his candidacy.
Money has definitely been a major problem for Whitney; the candidate recently sent out a plea of desperation for more funding from supporters. This problem is exacerbated by Scott Lee Cohen’s presence in the race, who is self-funding his campaign for Governor.
Whitney does well in polls where he is the only third party nominee in the Illinois gubernatorial race. The last poll from Rasmussen pegged Whitney at 8% in a three-way race with Republican Bill Brady and Democrat Pat Quinn. Other pollsters illustrate Whitney’s major problem. Whitney has to split protest votes against Quinn and Brady with Scott Lee Cohen and Lex Green. In a recent CNN/Opinion Research Poll Whitney pulled 4%, even as Cohen garnered an impressive 14%. Similarly, a PPP poll had Whitney at 4%, Green at 2%, and Cohen at 6%.
Jana Kemp (I-ID) – For two years, Jana Kemp was a Republican state legislator in Idaho. A moderate, she lost re-election after one term in 2006. However, it appears that Kemp has decided that her days in electoral politics are not over. Instead, in 2009 she announced a campaign for Governor as an Independent. Since then, Kemp has waged a vigorous campaign for the office for the past year.
Much like Scott Lee Cohen, the problem with this race is the polling. One recent poll of the race showed Kemp strong at 8.6%, which easily places her within the top ten gubernatorial candidates this cycle. Yet a few days later another poll grossly contradicted this result, placing Kemp at 1% support behind Libertarian Ted Dunlap at 3% and perennial candidate Pro-Life at 2%. It will be interesting to see where exactly Kemp falls on election night.
Ken Block (MP-RI) – The Moderate Party has been making a serious attempt to organize in the state of Rhode Island. After being spurned by Chafee, the party ran software engineer Ken Block as its nominee. Most polls initially excluded Block, who has raised a fair sum of money for a little-known candidate and participated in most debates in the race. However, since his inclusion he has posted a few solid returns. A Rasmussen poll pegged Block at 5%; a Fleming & Associates poll has Block at 4%.
The candidate has also been gunning hard for a “business friendly climate” in Rhode Island. One straw of business leaders in the state had the candidate at 10%.
Some noteworthy points about the rankings:
- Only one Constitution Party candidate makes the rankings for the most viable gubernatorial candidacies. This candidate is an exception to most minor party candidacies in general, as he ran due to a particular distaste to the Republican candidate after the primary while already having significant name recognition from both a presidential bid in 2008 and a congressional career.
- Independent and minor party candidates show particular resilience in Maine, Illinois, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Some candidates on this list, like Monds, get stronger support without the threat of another minor party on the ballot. Thus, it is surprising to find that all four of these states have at least two non-major party candidates polling relatively well. This is particularly significant when one considers that both Illinois and Maine each feature a third minor party/indy candidate who further siphons off voters willing to vote for somebody other than a Republican or a Democrat. While Maine has a history of supporting political movements exterior to the two party system (with two Independent Governors and numerous double-digit Independent candidacies in years past), this is a relatively new phenomenon in Massachusetts and Illinois. In 2006 both states exhibited strong showings for minor party or Independent candidates. In Massachusetts Independent Christy Mihos took 7% of the vote (after polling up to 20% early in the cycle); in Illinois Green candidate Rich Whitney polled 10%.
- Some states have potential for such strong showings but are too divided to attain electoral significance. There are two major examples of this. In Kansas Libertarian Andrew Gray would likely be polling around 5% were it not for the conservative Reform Party candidate in the race. Despite the fact that this Ken Cannon’s campaign has imploded, he still retains enough support to split those who would vote against both major parties out of sheer spite. Similarly, New York has at least four noteworthy minor party campaigns: perennial Green Howie Hawkins, black NYC councilman Charles Barron of the Freedom Party, Republican councilman Warren Redlich on the Libertarian line, and Kristin Davis as the Anti-Prohibition Party candidate. Taken separately, each campaign has been fairly vigorous. However, each candidate must compete with ideological bedfellows (Hawkins and Barron, Redlich and Davis) for the small sliver of the electorate that is willing to vote for a minor party candidate. Thus, it appears unlikely that minor party candidates will make a huge splash in the New York gubernatorial contest.
- This list has been limited to ten candidates and three honorable mentions in order to minimize the effect of candidates who only poll between 1-2% of the vote. This does not mean such runs are insignificant, as in certain states a candidate may not be able to reach 5% or more of the vote but does achieve a certain vote test to guarantee future ballot access. This in turn saves money for the minor party in question and gives a candidate more freedom to use volunteers and money for campaigning rather than expensive petition drives. However, such candidacies will be covered in a future article on IPR before the November elections.
- Only Lincoln Chafee is given any chance of victory by prominent political observers. However, both Tancredo and Horner appear to have an outsiders shot at victory if they can capitalize on recent momentum in their respective races.