Independence Party spoils the victors

Tuesday night, about 60 Independence Party of Minnesota activists gathered in the ballroom of the Sheraton hotel in Minnetonka , snacking on chips and salsa and buying drinks from the hotelâÄôs cash bar as election results trickled in. As the numbers on congressional races popped up on the giant projection screen, the number of people who voted for the IP âÄî 437,307 in the case of IP senatorial candidate Dean Barkley âÄî seemed to dwarf the difference between Sen. Norm Coleman and Al Franken, which is currently around 475. While the IP didnâÄôt win any elections this year, it helped shift the elections it was involved in, drawing between 5 and 15 percent of the vote . In three of the five congressional campaigns in which an IP-endorsed candidate ran, the IP vote exceeded the gap between the winner and loser from the two major parties. The IP, which was formed in 1992 to support presidential candidate Ross Perot , qualified as a major party in Minnesota after winning more than 5 percent of the vote running Barkley for a congressional seat in 1994. In 1998 , the IP âÄúshocked the world,âÄù in its words, when Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota. Since then, the IP hasnâÄôt enjoyed a statewide electoral victory, although itâÄôs consistently influenced statewide elections by taking votes from Democrats and Republicans and serving as an oasis for voters frustrated by political infighting and negative campaigning. Spoiler Alert The IP and other third parties have often been accused of playing spoiler to the major parties. âÄúSpoilerâÄù is an accurate term, in the case of Barkley , who won around 15 percent of the vote, University political science professor Steven Rosenstone said. âÄúThe probability of Barkley having affected the outcome is very high,âÄù he said. Usually, voters are attracted to third parties because of discontent with available candidates or because major party candidates arenâÄôt representing peopleâÄôs policy positions, Rosenstone said. âÄúI can imagine a scenario where voters might be unhappy with Coleman but could not warm up to Franken,âÄù Rosenstone said. âÄúI donâÄôt think there were many voters who for policy reasons were making the choice for Barkley.âÄù Exit polls, which arenâÄôt completely accurate, show that BarkleyâÄôs candidacy took one point from Franken and four from Coleman, although 10 percent of respondents said they would have abstained if Barkley wasnâÄôt a candidate, taking their influence out of play. Still, the IPâÄôs effect on the race is difficult to accurately gauge until more data becomes available, Rosenstone said. Playing this role thatâÄôs sometimes called âÄòspoiler,âÄô Barkley said, is part of building a political party. âÄúIâÄôll take a 15 or 16 percent base of voters right now to build on that,âÄù he said. âÄúHow long thatâÄôs going to take? I donâÄôt know, but IâÄôm a patient man.âÄù Influence or Dominance A major part of BarkleyâÄôs campaign was based on presenting the IP as an alternative to squabbling between the two major party candidates in the Minnesota Senate campaign, which Barkley referred to as âÄúthe dirtiest race in the history of mankind.âÄù âÄúOur best friend in the IP is the conduct of the other two parties,âÄù Barkley said. âÄú[WeâÄôre] an adult voice that didnâÄôt want to participate in trying to convince you how bad others were, but in trying to tell you what [we] wanted to do.âÄù The IP plays a unique role as a third party, Rosenstone said, because itâÄôs based less on a specific policy than on widespread discontent with the two major parties. âÄúThere is no âÄòThe PartyâÄô here for the Independence Party; itâÄôs a bunch of candidates who are adopting the label,âÄù he said. âÄúThat makes it a little trickier to figure out what the Republican or Democratic or DFL party strategy would do in Minnesota to co-opt the Independence Party because itâÄôs not really clear that thereâÄôs a âÄòtheirâÄô there.âÄù In past cases, Rosenstone said, successful third parties have been able to influence the two ruling parties, but often encounter difficulty becoming a ruling party themselves because of the way the American electoral system functions. âÄúThereâÄôs a whole set of rules in how elections are financed and how laws are written, as well as norms that we grow up learning in high school civics about a two party system,âÄù he said. âÄú[Competing with the two major parties] is a fantasy, of course, and there are those rare occasions.âÄù Out-funded 400 to 1 In addition to difficulties specific to the American electoral system, third parties like the IP also face pressure to compete with two ruling parties that raised a combined $36 million for the senatorial campaign this election season. Berkley raised just $78,000 . âÄúObviously, money is an uphill issue for any of our candidates running; weâÄôre always outspent,âÄù Barkley said. âÄúBut weâÄôll keep doing it, the other option is to give up and weâÄôre not doing that.âÄù Third parties face further difficulties in races where private interests, and especially the controversial 527s, play such a prominent role. âÄúNone of the special interests out there are going to invest any money in a third-party run,âÄù Rosenstone said. âÄúWhy would you put a dime on a thousand-to-one odds?âÄù Third Party Strategies Successful third parties, Rosenstone said, are able to exploit moments when there is a large discontent. They also are able to keep themselves in the publicâÄôs eye with sometimes flamboyant personalities, and to self-finance rather than depending on private interests, like former presidential candidate Ross Perot, he said. âÄúHe was able to garner attention because of his kookiness,âÄù Rosenstone said. During BarkleyâÄôs concession speech Tuesday night, he said the point of the IP is to give Minnesotans an alternative to the other two parties, but that Minnesota voters in 2008 chose âÄúto stay the course.âÄù âÄúThis isnâÄôt the end; this is the beginning,âÄù he said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to be continuing to build the IP; WeâÄôre going to be back in two years.âÄù