Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: email@example.com
A rule of American politics: The number of votes that third-party candidates receive usually reflects how much voters dislike the major-party candidates more than it reflects how much they actually like the third-party candidates.
That's why when Minnesotans had the choice for U.S. Senate between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley received 15% of the vote. That's also why Green Party candidate Rich Whitney took 10% of the vote in the 2006 Illinois governor's race -- even back then a lot of Democrats were disillusioned with Rod Blagojevich.
The next candidate who may benefit from this phenomenon: Chris Daggett, an independent who is running for governor of New Jersey.
Daggett has an opportunity because Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Chris Christie are locked in an increasingly bitter campaign. Corzine is unpopular, while Christie is still unknown to a surprisingly large extent and starting to get some bad press.
Plus, Daggett raised enough money ($350,000 by July) to qualify for state matching funds, which will allow him more resources than most independents. That achievement also will enable him to participate in debates in the fall.
So, who is Daggett and, to broach the cynical question asked about all independents, from which major-party candidate is he going to take more votes?
Daggett has a bipartisan background. Ronald Reagan appointed him to an Environmental Protection Agency position and New Jersey Republican Gov. Tom Kean named him to a state office, but Corzine also appointed him to a position.
While he strikes some notes of fiscal conservatism, his stances on the issues don't suggest that he is an ideologue. He has criticized the cost of public employee benefits, called for an end to teacher tenure and promoted school vouchers, all of which is likely to make him unpopular with unions.
That's one reason I suspect that Daggett will take more votes from Christie than Corzine. The more basic reason is that people who approve of Corzine probably will vote for him, while people who don't probably won't. If those who don't approve of the governor have two reasonably credible candidates from which to choose, Corzine may be able to win even with mediocre approval numbers.
Though not all pollsters are including Daggett right now, some polling has shown Christie's lead over Corzine shrinking a little when he is included. Most polls have given the independent 4%-6%, but the most recent (Democratic) poll placed him at 10%. If Daggett does take 10%, that will be enough to have an impact on the outcome -- and enough to signal that voters weren't entirely satisfied with Corzine and Christie.
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