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U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) are both running for President as antagonists to the political establishment. Though the two candidates harbor irreconcilable differences on economic policies, the two find themselves simpatico on many issues. Strangely, political ideology is a circle, not a continuum — left sometimes meets right.

The Libertarian-Right and the Progressive Left are at odds with the establishment candidates of their parties on a litany of issues. A recent poll showed that only 26 percent of Americans are satisfied with the two-party dominant political system.

Assuming nether Sanders nor Paul pockets their party’s nomination, and that an establishment Republican and establishment Democrat (most likely Hillary Clinton), manage to win their party’s nomination, an Independent candidate could be viable in 2016. The candidate would need to adopt and promote issues which unify Paul and Sanders supporters. To appeal to disaffected centrist voters as well, the candidate would need to delineate a plan to deal with the federal deficit, the national debt and unfunded liabilities.

In many respects, the 1992 Independent campaign of populist insurgent H. Ross Perot could serve as an archetype for an Independent candidacy today. That year, Perot garnered 18.9 percent of the popular vote. Surprisingly, he was actually ahead in the polls before dropping out of the race (He later re-entered the Presidential sweepstakes). Perot’s candidacy was eclectic, hitting a populist tone with insurrectionists in both major parties.

Similar to this current election cycle, there was a populist uprising in the primaries of both parties in 1992. Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Pat Buchanan had sharp disagreements on fiscal issues, yet both challenged the establishment candidates of their party. Brown called his campaign “a populist movement” and said his campaign was “a cause to take back our government from special interests.” Buchanan, running against Republican President George W. Bush, ran against the leadership of both parties, declaring: “the establishment that has dominated Congress for four decades is as ossified and out-of-touch with America as the establishment that resides in the White House.”

Both Brown and Buchanan were opposed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and both opposed U.S. involvement in most foreign entanglements, and shared a deeply rooted economic nationalism which viewed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as a threat to American sovereignty and to American jobs. Bush supported both the Gulf War and NAFTA. On the Democratic side, Bill Clinton, the de facto establishment candidate (once New York Governor Mario Cuomo announced he was not running), took a nuanced approach. Regarding the Persian Gulf War, Clinton said: “I guess I would have voted with the majority if it was a close vote. But I agree with the arguments the Minority made.” Clinton did not take a stand on NAFTA until after defeating Brown, saying he would not sign it “until we have reached additional agreements to protect America’s vital interests.”

Perot styled himself as a populist insurgent. The billionaire industrialist gained support from some Brown and Buchanan supporters by emphasizing that he too had opposed the Gulf War and was a NAFTA opponent. He sounded a clarion call that the agreement would result in “a giant sucking sound” of U.S. jobs moving to Mexico.

Economically, Perot was a deficit hawk, excoriating the fiscal policies of former President Ronald Reagan which emphasized tax cuts coupled with increases in the Defense budget. Perot averred: “We got into trickle down economics and it didn’t trickle.” While Perot did not muster support from fellow deficit hawk Paul Tsongas (who lost the Democratic Presidential nomination to Clinton), a group of his supporters, called TCitizens for Tsongas (playing on the silent ‘T’ in Tsongas”), backed Perot in the General Election campaign.

In order to be a plausible alternative to the current two-party electoral hegemony, the Independent candidate must spotlight and support issues which unify Paul and Sanders supporters. Both candidates, and the preponderance of their supporters, advocate a smaller footprint abroad, oppose warrantless wiretapping, are critical of the American war on drugs, and favor support for criminal justice reform, which would include an end to mandatory minimums for repeat offenders. In addition, both candidates support auditing the Federal Reserve.

On foreign policy, the Independent candidate could unite Libertarians and Progressives by making the case that U.S. intervention abroad makes America less safe. Many Sanders and Paul supporters are non-interventionists. The establishment candidates in both parties are not exponents of a retrenchment of U.S. forces abroad. To the chagrin of many liberal Democrats, Hillary supported the authorization for the war in Iraq.

To mainstream the non-interventionist doctrine, the Independent candidate would need to point to the now unpopular war in Iraq as the epitome of the blowback U.S. intervention can cause. The candidate would need to point out that the war in Iraq and the sanctions regime which preceded it effectuated enmity toward the U.S., spurred the formation of ISIS, and resulted in Shia-Dominated Iran accruing an ally in the region, making the U.S. less safe.

The Independent candidate would argue that it is unconstitutional and paternalistic for law enforcement to wiretap an American citizen without first getting a warrant, that the U.S. can no longer afford to wage a war on drugs, which has cost the U.S. over a trillion dollars since 1971, and that mandatory minimum prison sentences leveled against non-violent drug offenders should be retired.

While all of the aforementioned issues would unify Sanders and Paul supporters, the Independent candidate would need to support an economic program similar to Perot’s in 1992, which would reduce the deficit and begin to retire the National Debt while making short-term economic investments. There is no politically popular way to do this. The pain would have to be dispersed out across the spectrum.

The candidate would have to advocate entitlement reform, perhaps reducing Social Security payments to future wealthy retirees. This would appeal to advocates of fiscal austerity. That would be geminated with a truncation of the military budget, which presently tops 600 billion dollars. This is almost 20 percent of federal spending and more than what the next seven nations spend on their defenses combined. This program would appeal to Libertarians, Liberals, and fiscal hawks.

Independent candidates in the U.S. are only taken seriously if they can either pull together an eclectic crew of electoral discontents who are unhappy with the status quo, or if they can unify a widespread cross section of constituencies, while appealing to centrist voters who believe that entrenched partisanship is stagnating the country and that only someone from outside the electoral duopoly can move the country forward. Perot was able to appeal to both sectors, the insurrectionists from both parties and disaffected centrists. The political atmosphere is now in a similar situation to 1992. A candidate must appeal to the Paul and Sanders supporters in both parties, while concomitantly appealing to centrist voters who are open to electoral alternatives. It is quite possible that in this Presidential election cycle, the political stars may be aligning for another Ross Perot.

 

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In the recent Kentucky Republican Gubernatorial Primary, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin was ahead by just 83 votes out of over 214,000 votes cast. His opponent, Agricultural Secretary James Comer, requested a recanvising of the election.

Kentucky voters are used to close elections. In 1998, Jim Bunning quipped: “It’s great to have a landslide victory” after winning an open U.S. Senate seat by just 6,766 votes out of 1,145,414 cast. In 2004, Bunning was re-elected by just 22,652 votes out of 1,724,362 votes.

It seems that in every election cycle there is one election where the results are breathtakingly close. While most Congressional elections are easy victories for the incumbents, there are always a few elections where the result is not decided until weeks, even months after election night. This past cycle, the closest election occurred in Arizona, where Republican Martha McSally ousted Democratic incumbent Ron Barber by just 167 votes out of 219,351 cast. Following a protracted recount process. Barber conceded the election to McSally about a month and a half after the election. Interestingly, just two years earlier, it was Barber who defeated McSally by just 1,402 votes out of 285,000 cast.

There was actually an election where one vote literally decided the winner of a statewide election. The closest Gubernatorial election ever recorded in U.S. history occurred in Massachusetts in 1839. At the time, a candidate was required to garner a majority of the votes to win the election. Otherwise, the State legislature would choose the winner. The legislature was controlled by the Whig Party, which would almost assuredly have voted to re-elect incumbent Governor Edward Everett, the Whig nominee.

However, his opponent, Democrat Marcus Morton, garnered 51,034 votes of 102,066 votes cast, giving Morton a majority by a single vote margin. Had just one vote switched, Morton would not have won the majority, and thus would have lost the election. Amazingly, the Secretary of the Commonwealth, H.A.S. Dearborn, a devoted Whig and Everett supporter, did not cast a vote. Neither did some members of the Whig high command, prompting Everett to bemoan: “A better mode of showing [their support] would have been to vote.”

Similarly, in 1974, a U.S. Senate election in New Hampshire was decided by just two votes out of 223,363 votes cast. On Election Day, Republican Louis Wyman was declared the winner by just 355 votes. His Democratic opponent, John A. Durkin, subsequently asked for a recount. The recount showed Durkin had actually won the election by 10 votes. Wyman then asked for another recount.

This time it was Wyman who was the winner by a measly two votes. Undeterred, Drukin then appealed the election to the Democratically-controlled U.S. Senate. But the Senate could not resolve the dispute. Finally, after a seven-month deadlock, Wyman asked Durkin to run in a Special election. Durkin agreed.

The election garnered national attention because it was the only Congressional election during the off year. It became a referendum on the economic policies of President Gerald R. Ford. In fact, Ford participated in a 136-mile motorcade in the state five days prior to the election in a futile attempt to keep the seat in Republican hands. Durkin won the Special election by 27,000 votes.

South Dakota has been the epicenter of close elections. In 1962, George McGovern was elected to the U.S. Senate by just 597 votes out of 254,139 cast. In 1978, Tom Daschle was elected to the U.S. House by just 139 votes out of 129,227 votes. In 2002, South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson was re-elected by just 524 votes out of 334,458 votes tabulated.

Close elections can alter the course of history. The 1948 election to the U.S. Senate of Lyndon B. Johnson illustrates this point. In 1941, Johnson lost a special election to fill the seat of the late U.S. Senator Morris Sheppard by just 1,311 votes out of 988,295 cast. In 1948, Johnson was on the other side of a photo finish, defeating former Governor Coke Stevenson by just 87 votes out of 988,395 cast.

Decades later, Louis Salas, who served as an elections judge in Jim Wells County, told author Robert Caro that he had certified 202 fraudulent ballots for Johnson, enough to give him the race. Johnson earned the alliterative moniker: “Landslide Lyndon.” Because of that 87-vote victory, Johnson went to the U.S. Senate, and subsequently became exceedingly influential, as evinced by his meteoric rise to the top of the Senate hierarchy. Just four years into his Senate term, Johnson became Minority Leader. Two years later, he became Majority leader. In 1960, he was elected Vice President, and in 1963 he assumed the Presidency upon the death of President John F. Kennedy.

In 1994, U.S. Representative Newt Gingrich (R-GA) engineered a Republican take- over of the U.S. House, making him its first Republican Speaker in forty years. But Gingrich never would have gotten to that position had he been on the other side of a razor-thin election to his congressional seat just four years earlier. In 1990, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) did not view Gingrich as vulnerable, and thus did not fund the campaign of his Democratic opponent, David Worley. However, the DCCC underestimated the political skills of Worley. They undervalued concerns within the District that Gingrich was spending too much time advancing his national profile and not enough time on parochial issues. Startlingly, Gingrich defeated Worley by just 983 votes out of more than 155,000 votes cast.

Worley could have won the race, but the national Democrats did not fund his campaign. The following day, Gingrich averred to the New York Times that he got the message: “They [his constituents] want me to come home more often, to pay more attention to local issues, and I’m going to do it.”

Many Americans are still reeling from the protracted and still disputed Presidential election of 2000, where Republican George W. Bush was certified by Florida Secretary of State Katharine Harris as the winner of the Florida Presidential election, and thus won the national election. Officially, Bush had just 597 more votes in the sunshine state out of more than six million votes cast in Florida.

In 1880, Republican James Garfield defeated Democrat Winfield S. Hancock in the popular vote by just 7,368 popular votes out of 9,217,410. However, in the Electoral College, the margin was much wider, with Garfield garnering 214 votes and Hancock mustering just 155 votes.

In the election of 1884, one solitary event might have been the difference in another close election. A few days prior to the 1884 Presidential election, Presbyterian Minister Samuel Burchard, a supporter of Republican Presidential nominee James G. Blaine, spoke before the Religious Bureau of the Republican National Committee of New York, where he excoriated the Democrats as the Party of “Rum, Romanticism, and Rebellion.”

Blaine sat silently during this tirade and made no effort to disassociate himself from these volatile remarks. Unfortunately for the unsuspecting Blaine, many Irish voters took umbrage by the use of the word “rum,” believing that the Minister was perpetuating a stereotype that Irish-Americans, who were mostly Democrats, were alcoholics. This galvanized the Irish vote against Blaine in the swing state of New York, where Democrat Grover Cleveland eked out a razor-thin victory, defeating Blaine by just 1,047 votes. New York proved to be the state that made the electoral difference in a very close Presidential election.

The race for the Republican Gubernatorial nomination in Kentucky will enter the annals of whisker-close elections in American history. When election results are this close, those who chose to sit on the electoral sidelines believing their vote would not make a difference, may view with much regret their reticence to participate in the electoral process.

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Presidents and Their Political Bases Don’t Always Sing From The Same Song Sheet: Obama and His Democratic Base are a Prime Example

May 20, 2015

President Barack Obama is engaged in a feverish effort to shepherd the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a free trade treaty between the U.S. and 11 other nations) through the U.S. Congress. The preponderance of the opposition to the pact comes from the Democratic Party base. Obama is battling environmental advocacy groups, labor unions, and his own party’s […]

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Clinton’s Battle With Cultural and Financial Elitism

May 8, 2015

Bill and Hillary Clinton have amassed a fortune since leaving the White House. Because of this financial windfall, Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is facing charges of “elitism.” The revelation that Hillary decided to run for President at the Dominican Republic estate of fashion mogul Oscar de la Renta, and the revelation that some of […]

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The Invasion of the Party-Switchers in Presidential Politics

April 28, 2015

The 2016 Presidential election might go down in history as the year of the party-switchers. Republican Rick Perry was once a member of the Texas Democratic State Legislature. Potential Democratic Presidential candidate Jim Webb was once a Republican. Lincoln Chafee became a Democrat in 2013. He had initially been a Republican, then registered as an […]

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Unlike Father, Rand Paul Is Willing to Alter His Positions to Win

April 28, 2015

Some Libertarians who supported then U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) in his two failed quests for the Republican presidential nomination are irritated with his son, Rand Paul. Rand Paul, who recently entered the sweepstakes for the GOP presidential nomination, has moderated his positions on some key issues. For example, Rand asserted in 2007 that Iran’s […]

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One Galvanizing Issue Can Rocket Launch a Potential Presidential Candidacy: Scott Walker Is One Example

March 20, 2015

On election night 2010, Scott Walker’s victory in the Wisconsin Gubernatorial sweepstakes flew under the national radar. More national focus was thrust upon Texas Governor Rick Perry’s successful re-election bid, and the election of Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate in Florida. Yet today, Walker sits in the first tier of 2016 Republican Presidential aspirants, […]

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No Political Ideology Has a Monopoly on Patriotism

March 20, 2015

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani created a firestorm by publicly stating: “I do not believe the President [Barack Obama] loves America.” Giuliani also suggested that Obama developed negative feelings toward America from Frank Marshall Davis, a member or the Communist Party USA, who was introduced to Obama by his grandfather, Stanley Dunham, at […]

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How Will Chris Christie’s Unfiltered Style Play in the Presidential Sweepstakes?

February 11, 2015

Prospective Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie is known for his confrontational style. Unlike most politicians, Christie has no problem telling-off hecklers and giving candid responses to questions. For example, during a town hall meeting, Christie told a heckler: “Sit down and shut up!” He publicly said of New York Daily News sportswriter Manish Mehta, who […]

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Is Jeb Bush Channeling Henry “Scoop” Jackson?

February 11, 2015

The positions of political parties are not static. In fact, they sometimes change rapidly. Ideological shifts usually begin at the grassroots level, and then trickle up to the political leadership. Those who do not change with their party on major issues often become heretics. Two prime examples of this are U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson […]

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