2010: The year of the independent candidate

Lisa Murkowski announces her write-in campaign.

by Rachel Rose Hartman

Credit the tea party, our election system or just plain ambition, but 2010 is fast becoming the year for established candidates to shun the two major political parties.

Write-in or third-party candidates look to significantly shake things up in several major statewide races Nov. 2 — and this week, yet another major candidate disclosed he may be adding his name to that list.

Republican Rep. Mike Castle said Wednesday that he “probably” would not wage a write-in candidacy for Delaware senator. But he also said he hasn’t ruled the option out; he’s pondering it, he said, “simply because it’s there, simply because I’ve had a number of people who’ve asked that I do that.” Castle, like Sen. Lisa Murkowski in Alaska, lost his Republican primary campaign to an insurgent tea party candidate, and is looking at a write-in effort like the one Murkowski announced last week as a way back into the 2010 political fray.

Below is a roundup of  some of the year’s most significant independent candidates — together with a look at their motivations and the odds that they’ll prevail on Election Day.

  • Tim Cahill for Massachusetts governor: Cahill was serving as state treasurer last year when he announced his decision to leave the Democratic Party. The switch allowed Cahill to avoid a tough primary battle against incumbent Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. Cahill has been a prolific fundraiser and a frequent target of GOP attacks aimed at boosting the profile of Republican nominee Charlie Baker. But Cahill’s role in November may just be as a spoiler. Most recent polls indicate that Cahill trails both Patrick and Baker. Cahill appears to be siphoning votes from both parties — meaning that the party base losing the smaller portion of its supporters to Cahill probably has the best shot at the governorship.
  • Lincoln Chafee for Rhode Island governor: Chafee was a member of the Republican Party when he served in the U.S. Senate, but after losing his re-election campaign in 2006, he left the party and became an independent.  So after several years working in the private sector and being officially aligned with independents, Chafee brought his new political identity back into the political arena. His record as a maverick moderate vote in the GOP Senate caucus  has helped him secure key endorsements from labor unions and other organizations that lean to the center and the left. Polls show that Chafee has a strong shot at besting Democratic challenger Frank Caprio in the open-seat race. Republican Ken Block continues to trail his two opponents.
  • Charlie Crist for Florida Senate: Crist, the sitting Republican governor of Florida, was campaigning for the GOP Senate nomination at the start of this year. But Crist’s GOP primary bid soon fell afoul of a strong challenge from tea-party-endorsed candidate Marco Rubio. So in April, Crist, who had drawn criticism within the GOP for his moderate policy record and his support for  Obama on key issues such as the 2009 economic stimulus, announced in April that he would wage a “no party” bid in Florida. Initially, Crist was able to siphon support from both major parties, especially since the Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, has failed to gain major traction. But polls show that Rubio has built a strong lead the open-seat race.
  • Lisa Murkowski for Alaska Senate: Sen. Murkowski lost her Republican primary to tea party candidate Joe Miller in a stunning upset last month. Last week, Murkowski announced her decision to wage a write-in campaign. Because of the uncertain nature of write-in campaigns, it’s unclear whether Murkowski will win the race in November, but her re-emergence has national Republicans girding for a very tough race.
  • Tom Tancredo for Colorado governor: Tancredo, a former Republican congressman and 2008 presidential candidate, was so unhappy with the GOP bench in Colorado’s gubernatorial race that he issued an ultimatum to the candidates this summer: If polls showed the primary winner behind in the open-seat race, the nominee would have to drop out or face a challenge from Tancredo himself. But Tancredo didn’t wait that long. He launched a candidacy under the American Constitution Party before the primary. Democratic nominee John Hickenlooper, the mayor of Denver, leads the open-seat race in most major polls, while Tancredo continues to complicate GOP efforts by splitting the Republican vote.