Third-party candidates more visible than ever

Peter Johnson

Two years ago, voters would have been challenged to name any third-party candidate aside from gubernatorial candidate Jesse Ventura.
His victory, however, has changed the public’s perception of third parties and the political climate.
Voters statewide will participate in Tuesday’s primary and might even recognize the names of once-unknown third-party candidates. They might even vote for them.
The 2000 election year will be historic for Minnesota’s third parties. Groups like the Libertarian Party, Grassroots Party and the Constitution Party are running candidates in a variety of races.
Yet among the third parties, the Gov. Jesse Ventura-affiliated Independence Party is perhaps the most prominent. It is also the reason the nation will closely watch Minnesota’s election results.
Although the party first achieved recognition with Ventura’s 1998 victory, it now seeks to achieve maturity in the 2000 race.
Perhaps the most competitive contest this election year is for the U.S. Senate seat held by GOP incumbent Rod Grams. The contest has seen a variety of DFL and third-party challengers, including four from the Independence Party.
The party-endorsed James Gibson faces environmentalist Leslie Davis, party activist Buford Johnson and latecomer Fred Askew. Gibson, who is also endorsed by the Star Tribune and has earned the support of Gov. Ventura, has been the most visible candidate, campaigning statewide for the last year.
“The very thing the governor tapped into is very much alive. All it takes is the perception that we have a viable candidate,” Gibson said.
While the viability of Gibson’s candidacy against DFL and Republican challengers remains to be seen, he expects to win Tuesday’s primary.
Yet in a primary known for its relatively small turnout, the results remain uncertain.
“It is very hard to poll for the primary. All I have to go upon is this intuitive feel that things are going well, that we’re running a much stronger campaign than the others,” Gibson said. “We haven’t had the contest the Democrats have had. If we had stronger opponents running in our primary, we’d be pushing harder.”
While Gibson feels confident about the primary, the eventual winner will face a decidedly tougher race against DFL and Republican opponents.
“We have to accomplish things that are easier for Republicans and Democrats. Raising money has been our biggest challenge,” Gibson said.
Much of the challenge in third-party politics is competing with more established and heavily funded major parties.
“We don’t have the infrastructure of mature parties, so we are creating infrastructure to be used for subsequent candidates,” Gibson said.
While acknowledging the road ahead will be challenging, Gibson also likes his chances for victory and said he hopes public distaste for partisan politics will fuel his efforts.
“There is a tremendous amount of neutralization. The public is wary of attacks and will look for a clean alternative,” Gibson said.
If Gibson wins the primary, he will carry many of the aspirations of the Independence Party. While this election promises to test the legitimacy of the party and the clout of the governor, Gibson remains ready to continue his campaign.

Peter Johnson welcomes comments at (612) 627-4070 x3238.