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5 candidates for governor, no runoff

COMMENTARY | August 18, 2006

Texas has never had an independent running for governor; this year it has two, plus a Republican, a Democrat and a Libertarian

By Dave McNeely

U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is running for re-election as an independent. That wasn't his first choice, but after Connecticut Democratic voters gave him just 48 percent against newcomer Ned Lamont's 52 percent, the man who was the Democrats' vice-presidential nominee in 2000 decided not to roll over without taking one more bite at re-election. And he might win, since obviously close to half the Democrats have already voted for him.

If Lieberman wins, some think that could be an indication of a possible third-party movement in American politics. It's been tried before, of course, by the likes of Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996, and John Anderson in 1980 in presidential races. The only time it made a difference was in 1992; Perot didn't win, but probably cost then-President George Bush the White House. Perot got 19 percent nationally. Bush's family thinks Bush would have been re-elected had not Perot pulled enough of his vote away that Democrat Bill Clinton won.

What Lieberman is doing in Connecticut isn't allowed any more in Texas, for at least the last 25 years, says election expert Buck Wood. Several years ago, the election laws were made such that someone who lost a party nomination battle was ineligible to run in the general election as an independent. The law also was changed to require independents to file their candidacies by the same deadline as the major party candidates.

That's why Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn had to choose by Jan. 2 whether she would run as a Republican, as she had earlier indicated, or as an independent, as she did. Had she stayed in the GOP primary and lost to Gov. Rick Perry, her election year would be over.

In Texas, most people know by now that there are two independents running for governor: Strayhorn, and author-entertainer Kinky Friedman. It is the first time that there have been independents running for governor in Texas.

Usually the impact of third-party candidates – Libertarian, Green, La Raza Unida, Socialist Workers or others – has been to provide a blip in the record books. They have sometimes denied the winner a majority: Democratic Govs. Dolph Briscoe in 1972 and Ann Richards in 1990 were both elected with less than a majority, as was Republican Gov. Bill Clements in 1978. But the question this year in Texas is whether either Strayhorn or Friedman can muster enough strength to emulate pro wrestler Jesse Ventura's win over major-party candidates to become governor of Minnesota.

To do so, the winner would have to outpoll not only the other independent, but also Democrat Chris Bell, Libertarian James Werner, and Gov. Perry. A surprising number of Texas voters, including some smart folks, are as yet unaware that there is no runoff: Whoever gets the most votes in the election wins. Theoretically, Perry could win re-election with as little as 21 percent of the vote – in the unlikely scenario that each of the other four got 19.75 percent each.

Some observers think Strayhorn, with several more million dollars to spend on TV than anyone but Perry, and a following from several previous statewide races, will lead the challengers to Perry. But others think Bell, simply by virtue of being the Democratic nominee, will benefit from the Democratic base and get at least 30 percent. The least a Democrat has gotten in a contested race in the past several election cycles was 31.2 percent, when Garry Mauro opposed the re-election effort of then-Gov. George W. Bush. Of course, there were no independents in that race.

But even if one of the independents should win this year, the likelihood of that person creating a lasting party or organization based around their effort is slim. The Republican Party has a lot of momentum and infrastructure, and the Democrats, weak as they might seem, still have a lot more than the two independents offer.

If neither Strayhorn nor Friedman were in the race, the Libertarian candidate would almost certainly score higher – but, if history is a guide, not out of the single digits. So, things could change this election year, but probably won't – even in the unlikely event that one of the independent candidates can coalesce the anti-Perry vote enough to knock him off. It's one of the strangest election years in Texas history.

change the players
Posted by birney young -
08/28/2006, 07:43 PM

Good gosh you have Kinky F to vote your disgust with the status quo.
He IS NOT a Pol. He owes nothing to anyone. His lack of real life experience can only hurt those people who suck the money from yhe public coffers.

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