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No Labels, no candidate, no chance


Everybody wants to start at the top.

And so, of course the deep-pocketed investors behind the attempt to build a centrist third party under the No Labels banner started with a presidential election. And not just any presidential election, but one in which the Republican nominee is a former president who is facing 88 felony indictments in four separate cases and is vowing vengeance if he wins.

Democratic voters with sour memories of Ralph Nader and Jill Stein still haunting them, greeted the No Labels effort with fear and hostility. That made it impossible to recruit a candidate, despite the tens of millions of dollars raised in undisclosed campaign donations. And so, last week the group announced that it was giving up.

The last time a third-party candidate claimed any electoral votes was in 1968 when the Democratic Party in the south was still breaking away from its racist past, and George Wallace won five southern states.

The closest thing we have to a viable third party now is either the Green Party or the Libertarians, and they both cater to the extremes. There’s nothing for centrists who no longer feel well represented by either party.

Nothing, except the disorganized status of being an independent, and those ranks are growing. A recent Gallup Poll showed that 49 percent of voters now identify as independent, giving them numbers that dwarf both the Republican and Democratic parties.

New Mexico does all it can to discourage voters from leaving the parties. We have closed primaries, where only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote. The winner gets an automatic spot on the ballot. The path for any candidate not affiliated with one of the two major parties is much more difficult and expensive.

And so, it’s not surprising that we have a smaller percentage of independent voters than the national average, But, the number has increased from 5 percent in 1990 to 23 percent now.

I was registered as an independent throughout most of my career in journalism. I switched several years ago to vote in the Democratic primary, and am too lazy to switch back and forth for every election. So, my official registration doesn’t really reflect how I feel.

The registration data clearly show that independent voters represent the greatest potential political force in the nation. But realizing that potential will require a level of organization and coordination that starts at the grassroots level, with candidates for city council, county commission and school board.

And, it will require a passion for compromise. That’s a tough sale, especially when Republicans and Democrats are making campaign promises that tell the voters whatever they want to hear.

Maybe it’s a pipe dream. Our system is set up to have two competing points of view. And, while they will argue about everything else, both parties are united in defending that system.

Breaking that grip of power will be slow and hard. It won’t come in the flash of a presidential election. It will require a movement.

There is no foundation for any third-party candidate to win this year, regardless of how unpopular the major-party nominees are. The only role they can play is spoiler.

It’s tough to inspire a movement behind a spoiler.

Walter  Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com. Walter Rubel’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of KRWG Public Media or NMSU.