Jim Gray has a strategy that results in neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney occupying the White House next year.
It goes like this:
Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson gets into the presidential debates this fall, either by rising poll numbers or the force of a lawsuit. Voters recognize that Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, has favorable stances on everything from ending the war in Afghanistan to repealing the Patriot Act to legalizing medical marijuana.
Then, in a year when polls show voters are generally unhappy with the two major parties and the nation is in worse shape than any time since World War II, Democrats peel off from Obama and Republicans from Romney and join independents and Ron Paul’s supporters in backing Johnson, propelling him to the White House.
This unlikely series of events, which Gray describes as a “perfect storm,” isn’t so different from the hopes and dreams of many people who join minor-party movements around the country or the outline for a political potboiler. But Gray is no wide-eyed political novice or hack writer; he’s a former California judge who spent a quarter-century on the bench and has run for the U.S. House and Senate. He’s also Johnson’s vice presidential candidate, who is stopping in Seattle over the weekend and Spokane on Monday.
He’s a serious candidate who said in an interview last week he accepted Johnson’s offer to be on the ticket on one condition: “We run to win. There’s none of this moral victory stuff, that we’re running to make a statement.”
Johnson and Gray will share Washington’s presidential ballot with Barack Obama and Joe Biden as well as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, the secretary of state’s office announced recently.
But they’ll also share it with Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala of the Green Party; Peta Lindsay and Yari Osorio of the Socialism and Liberation Party; Virgil Goode and James Clymer of the Constitution Party; James Harris and Alyson Kennedy of the Socialist Workers Party; and Ross Anderson and Luis J. Rodriguez of the Justice Party.
Some of the parties may be familiar even if the standard bearer is not. The Libertarian Party is, by most estimates, the third-largest political party in the country. The conservative Constitution Party is strong in Washington and Idaho. The progressive Green Party previously had Ralph Nader as its presidential nominee.
But others represent parties that may be as unfamiliar to most voters as the candidates they’ve chosen. Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City, quit the Democratic Party last year, formed the Justice Party and picked up the endorsement of Nader.
Harris has the top spot for the Socialist Workers Party, as he did in 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008. He lost ground among Washington voters over that period, collecting 738 votes in his first run and 641 votes four years ago.
The Socialist Workers Party shouldn’t be confused with the Socialism and Liberation Party, which is actually an offshoot of the Workers World Party. Lindsay, a California graduate student, faces a problem beyond a lack of recognition for her candidacy and her party. She’s only 28, which makes her too young to be president.
The parties represent a wide range of political thought, and the candidates agree on some issues while disagreeing on others. For example, Johnson and the Libertarians and Stein and the Greens support legalizing marijuana for some uses. Stein and Gray are both making appearances this weekend at Seattle’s Hempfest.
The Greens want health care to be turned into a “single payer” system, as do the Justice Party and the Socialism and Liberation Party. The Libertarians want Medicare to be turned into block grants to the state, and would repeal the Affordable Care Act, as would the Constitution Party.
The Libertarians and the Constitutional Party would drop the income tax in favor of some form of national sales tax. Greens, Libertarians and Constitutionalists share a suspicion of the Federal Reserve. The Justice, Green, and Socialism and Liberation parties want higher taxes on the rich.
Most would cut defense spending, close many or most overseas bases and bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan at a faster pace.
All have some issues that would resonate with some voters. But the problem they all face is finding and connecting with those voters, then convincing them that casting a ballot for someone other than a Democrat or Republican isn’t a waste.
For Gray, the solution to that problem is getting Johnson into the debates with Obama and Romney, and himself into the debate with Biden and Ryan.
But the debates are run by a commission controlled by members of the two major parties. A minor-party candidate must have support of 15 percent of the public in a national poll to share the stage with the Democratic and Republican nominees, which is a higher standard than Ross Perot faced when he was allowed into the 1992 League of Women Voters debates with George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The Libertarians might sue to get into the debate, Gray said. He doesn’t think a victory there would open the floodgates for all the third-party candidates, because the Libertarians might be the only other party to qualify for the ballot in all 50 states and that might be a “logical cutoff” the courts could set.
“If we’re seen as viable, we’ll win,” Gray said. “If we’re not in the debates, we’re dead.”