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An unusual number of Democratic candidates running this cycle are basing their victory scenarios on the existence of Independent or third-party candidates in their races. Are their hopes reasonable or are they merely grasping at straws?
Certainly there are examples of third-party candidates who had no chance of winning siphoning off enough votes from one major-party nominee to alter the outcome of an election.
Last cycle, in Ohios 15th district, anti-abortion conservative Don Eckhart drew almost 13,000 votes, the majority of which might well have gone to GOP nominee Steve Stivers. That almost certainly cost the Republican the election, as Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy won by less than 1 point.
But more often than not, Independents and third-party candidates see their support evaporate as Election Day approaches, as voters realize that a vote for an also-ran is a wasted vote.
At least 10 Democratic hopefuls now seem to be counting on Independent candidates attracting enough votes to allow the Democrats to win with less than 50 percent of the total vote. The list includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, Colorado Rep. Betsy Markey, Michigan Rep. Mark Schauer, Nevada Rep. Dina Titus, Ohio Rep. Zack Space, Virginia Reps. Tom Perriello and Glenn Nye, Ohios Kilroy, and Pennsylvania 15th district challenger John Callahan.
In Nevada, even Democrats acknowledge that it will be difficult for Reid to reach 50 percent in November. But they note that the states none of the above option for voters, combined with a number of Independent candidates, enhance Reids chances by dividing the anti-Reid vote.
Most of the attention has gone to Tea Party nominee Scott Ashjian, but Independent American Party nominee Tim Fasano is also on the ballot. Both candidates (and both parties) espouse extremely conservative views, including support for lower taxes and smaller government. Any votes they get presumably would come from Republican Sharron Angle.
But Angle is so conservative and plugged in to the tea party movement that it is difficult to believe that she will lose much support to the two ultra-conservatives, and most of the voters who end up supporting Ashjian and Fasano probably wouldnt support a major-party nominee anyway. Neither Ashjian nor Fasano filed a first-quarter Federal Election Commission report.
Nevadas Independent American Party has also nominated a candidate in the states 3rd district, Scott Narter. Narter drew 4.6 percent of the vote in a 2004 Clark County Commission race. He hasnt filed an FEC report, and he doesnt have a campaign website. But if hes on the ballot, hell get some votes.
In Ohio, Stivers is back for another shot at Kilroy, who won her seat with only 46 percent because third-party nominees drew almost a combined 9 percent.