Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Is the Time Ripe for Third-Party and Independent Bids?

Both the Republican and Democratic brands are damaged. Voters think the country is headed off on the wrong track and still clamor for change. Every primary and general election hopeful who can (and some who reasonably can’t) is running against Washington, D.C., and against professional politicians.

So is this the time for third-party candidates and Independents to show their political muscle and become serious players in the fall campaigns and in November?

In a few places the answer is “yes.” In most, it’s still a thundering “no.”

There are really three types of Independent hopefuls: contenders, spoilers and pretenders.

Independent candidates for governor in at least three states, all of them in New England, are running serious races, and the number of credible non-major-party candidates could grow if Minnesota’s Independence Party nominates someone with serious credentials or personal resources.

Former Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee, now an Independent, may well have the best shot of the New England bunch of winning his state’s top office in November, thereby replacing retiring Gov. Don Carcieri (R), who is finishing his second term.

Chafee bears a well-known political name. His father, John, served four terms in the U.S. Senate, and he served one. Both men ran as Republicans. And like his father, Lincoln Chafee was a liberal Republican whose record angered conservatives both in Rhode Island and nationally.

The likely GOP nominee for governor is former gubernatorial aide John Robitaille, whose electoral high water mark is losing a state legislative contest by four votes. Two Democratic statewide officeholders are competing for their party’s nomination, state Treasurer Frank Caprio and state Attorney General Patrick Lynch.

Chafee currently leads in public polls in three-way ballot tests, and his appeal across the partisan spectrum makes him a contender.

In Maine, Independent Eliot Cutler looks like a very credible candidate in a contest that now, some two months before the state’s primary, boasts a field of candidates that is almost large enough to deserve its own ZIP code. The winner will replace retiring Gov. John Baldacci (D), who won re-election four years ago with 38 percent of the vote.

A native of Maine who served on the staff of former Sen. Edmund Muskie (D) and then in President Jimmy Carter’s Office of Management and Budget, Cutler was a partner in the Washington, D.C., powerhouse law firm of Akin Gump Strass Hauer and Feld.

Cutler rightly points out that Maine has not been reluctant to elect Independent governors — in 1974 James Longley won the state’s top job as an Independent, and Angus King won two terms the same way, in 1994 and 1998. The last major party nominee to win at least 50 percent of the vote in a Maine gubernatorial contest was Joseph Brennan in 1982.

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