The leadership of Americans Elect is still planning on running candidates for local elections in 2014, and trying again for the presidency in 2016, but in the meantime there are, according to the group, over 400,000 people who signed up on their website. Now, it would follow, they are ripe for the taking for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
Conversations with nearly a dozen Americans Elect supporters from all over the country, in the days following the crash, reveal a group of highly engaged wound-be voters looking for a political home. They sound, in many respects like natural Democrats, if only the Democrats didn’t have to contend with the Republican Party or with a right-of-center electorate. They overwhelmingly favor further investment in the nation’s infrastructure. They want liberalized immigration policies. They decry the wars overseas. They don’t want more taxes, but exploding deficits came up again and again as a top concern. They trust the GOP more on energy, but find their views on social issues distasteful. They blame Republicans more than Democrats for the turn Washington has taken, but care more about engaging citizenry, especially online, than any particular policy, and don’t trust elected representatives to come up with solutions that are outside of their parties orthodoxy.
“If I had to really boil it down—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly,” said John Lumea, a writer and a brand strategist from San Francisco,CA, who became an Americans Elect delegate but kept a blog critical of the process. “I am a liberal thinking independent, and I am attracted to efforts that seem to hold some promise of a politics that will be more connective for people.”
He had been a Democrat, he said, “for years,” but added “my own political journey has been increasingly toward a more independent approach and not aligned with a party.” He was, he said, energized by the post-partisan rhetoric of Mr. Obama’s 2008 election, but saw the rhetoric rendered meaningless when the task of governing began.
“Although to be fair, a lot of people projected that ideal onto him more than he claimed it for himself,” he said. “My personal movement towards a more independent politics was independent of any particular disillusionment with Obama and more a general disillusionment with the whole party system.”
Many people contacted for this story said they were intrigued by Americans Elect because they felt that they could contribute in a real way to the political process in a way that they could not otherwise. It is an odd read: as fewer and fewer people join political parties, the parties are in fact ripe for the kind of take over that Americans Elect delegates say they want. This has already largely happened on the GOP side as more and more state and local Republican parties become vehicles of the Tea Party.
For many Americans Elect supporters, the rise of the Tea Party though was further proof of a pox on both their houses, not proof that the American political system could be transformed by those committed to its reinvention.
“As I see it the Democrats are bad, but the Republicans are worse,” said Mr. Kliensmith. “The Democrats are pretending they would like to compromise, but they know the Republicans won’t, so they try to make it seem like they are better.”
The Democrats problems with centrist voters in general or with Americans Electors are a mirror of their problems heading into November: how to convince them, again, that Obama can rise above the partisan din.
Democrats must hope that the example of Catherine Martone, 58, of Salt Lake City,Utah, is typical.
A military housewife, she found out about Americans Elect online, and was eventually recruited by the group for a photo-op where she hand-delivered the required number of signatures to Utah State Capitol to get the Americas Elect candidate on the ballot.
Months later however she was off the group entirely. The Republican primary had grown “more and more frightening,” and she began to fear that the Americans Elect candidate would peel support from President Obama. Now she is volunteering with the Utah offices of Obama for America, and driving several hours on the weekends to register voters in nearby Colorado.
“I thought that if we could come up with a slate of candidates it would open up the conversation, it would send a message about gridlock,” she said. “I think I may have been wrong. I still want the Democrats to win.”
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