Third parties fight for attention in Delaware

20 years ago, Ross Perot made a big splash in the Presidential race, maybe siphoning off votes from incumbent President George H.W. Bush and possibly tipping the election in Bill Clinton’s favor.  But two decades later, the road has not gotten easier for Third Party candidates.

Because the Republicans and Democrats have dominated politics for so long, third parties have had a tough time breaking through both nationally and in Delaware.  

Director of the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication Ralph Begleiter says even though the advent of social media should make it easier for third party candidates to get their message out, it’s not translating to election success.  “Third parties ought to be able to get their message out using social media, connecting directly with voters, making their points, having voters show up at events the same way republicans and democrats do it, and yet they have been fairly unsuccessful at doing so since Ross Perot.”i

Mark Perri is running for Governor as a Green Party candidate.  Not surprisingly, his key issue is environmental.  “Basically global warming. It’s the most important, most urgent issue that we’re confronting and it’s not being dealt with at all in politics. We’re in complete denial.”

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Perri’s campaign activity has been fairly low-key.  He’s been involved with Occupy Delaware, even taking part in a street-theatre protest against corporate banks.  “You cannot be Green and accept any corporate money. Money is irrelevant. It’s so saturated our government at this point that people have stopped participating.”  But that lack of financing has also limited third party candidate’s visibility.

Both loclaly and nationally, third party candidates are depending on voters disillusionment with the two-party system to earn them votes.  Libertarian Party Vice Presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray made a campaign stop in Dover.  “As we say, you can be libertarian with us this one time, and if you don’t like prosperity, equal opportunity and freedom, than you can always go back to politics as usual.”

Gray says the Libertarians are trying to give voters another choice besides President Obama and Mitt Romney.  “They’re not running on ideas.  They’re not running on their records because they really can’t.  fWhat they’re doing is in effect saying how inept the other one is and we agree with both of them.”

Recent changes in Delaware law have made it harder for 3rd party candidates to get on the ballot.  Under the old rules, political parties had to have just 0.1% of registered voters to be on the ballot.  Now that’s been increased to at least 0.2% of voters to make it on the ballot, which translates to about 600 people.

“The ballot rules were changed,” says Perri.  “We had to do a drive to increase our registered greens in the state and we successfully did that.”  Even though he’s on the ballot, Perri is pessimistic about his campaign’s chances.  “We have no choice. Markell will be re-elected. Anybody who spends money against him is basically throwing it away.”

And as for the future of third party candidates, “I wouldn’t bet on the future of independent parties,” says Begleiter.  “But I do think there’s an opening for them in years, partly because of social media, partly because of the disillusionment with the two major parties.”

In addition to Perri, there’s also a Libertarian Party candidate running for Governor, Jesse McVay.  Alex Pires with the Independent Party of Delaware and Green Party candidate Andrew Groff are running in the U.S. Senate race.  Libertarian Scott Gesty and Green Bernard August are running for U.S. House.  There’s also eight state Senate races and nine state House races that are being contested by at least one third party candidate.

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