MANCHESTER, N.H. - Former Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer today became the first candidate to announce that he will seek the nomination of Americans Elect, an advocacy group that is trying to put a third, split-party ticket on the presidential ballot.
Roemer, who has gained little support in his attempt to win the Republican presidential nomination, said he will continue his primary race and will run as a Republican in the Americans Elect contest. Voters registering with Americans Elect will choose their nominee via the Internet. If nominated, Roemer will have to choose a running mate from a different party.
Roemer said his decision stems from his frustration at being excluded from the Republican primary debates. “It shows you my naiveté. I just knew that as I got better known, as I became more established…I would be invited to a debate,” Roemer said in an interview at his national headquarters. “But we’re not going to be.”
Roemer said he agrees with many tenets of the Republican Party. But he has been unable to call attention to his platform, which focuses on campaign finance reform, because he has not been included in polls or debates. “I’m not trying to form a third party,” Roemer said. “What I’m trying to do is contrast what a unity ticket can do compared to the two parties, and let’s make a decision as a nation. At the very least, we might reform one of the parties to embrace campaign reform.”
He is still looking at potential running mates, but said he would consider Democrats like Erskine Bowles, co-chair of President Obama’s deficit reduction commission, or Harvard University law professor Lawrence Lessig, a proponent of campaign finance reform.
Roemer served four terms as a US representative in the 1980s, followed by four years as Louisiana governor. He is founder and CEO of a community bank in Louisiana. He was a Democrat in Congress and switched to the Republican Party as governor.
Roemer has made his signature issue campaign finance reform – and criticizes Democrats and Republicans for ignoring the issue. “I’ve been in both parties, and I can tell you they are bought,” Roemer said. “They are interested in raising money…. I like a two-party system that’s open, but both parties have been institutionally corrupted by the money.”
Roemer wants to require disclosure of all campaign contributions within 48 hours, eliminate super political action committees, put the same contribution limits on political action committees as on private citizens, and have criminal penalties for those who violate campaign finance laws.
Roemer only takes donations of up to $100 per person and will not accept money from PACs. But he has not been able to run a credible campaign with those limitations. Having raised less than $200,000, he has no money for advertising. He spends five days a week in New Hampshire, visiting senior centers and Republican groups. He rented an apartment in Manchester and moved his national headquarters there, but has only three paid staff. He is frustrated by a campaign where retail politics seems irrelevant. “We’ve become a nation of spectators, where television runs the roost,” Roemer said.
Kahlil Byrd, CEO of Americans Elect, said he expects more candidates will emerge as the group’s nominating process begins later this month. Over two million people submitted signatures to put the Americans Elect ticket on state ballots, and “several hundred thousand” registered to vote online, Byrd said. He anticipates that the group’s nominee will meet the qualifications to participate in the general election debates. “We are heartened by the fact that significant people are making the choice to jump into the race and we welcome them,” Byrd said. “We expect other Democrats, Republicans, and independents to begin identifying themselves in the next couple of months.”
Other Republican candidates frequently mentioned as possible third party candidates are Texas Congressman Ron Paul – a former libertarian who says he has no plans to run with a third party, and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, who has suggested he may run as a libertarian. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman told the Globe he did not think he would run as an independent but did not rule it out.
Having a Republican running on a third ticket could hurt the Republican Party. In 2000, Democrats blamed Ralph Nader’s liberal Green Party candidacy for drawing swing state votes away from Democrat Al Gore and allowing Republican George Bush to win the presidency.
But not all Republicans oppose Roemer’s decision. Fergus Cullen, a former New Hampshire Republican Party chairman, said Americans have often looked to third parties in times of strife. “I can understand why Roemer would be frustrated with the experience he had,” Cullen said. “I think it was wrong for him to be excluded from the early debates.”
Roemer is not worried that his candidacy would lead to President Obama’s victory. “I’m going to take votes away from the entrenched parties. Both of them,” Roemer said. “My early indication is that I’d get more Democratic support than Republican support.”
Shira Schoenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shiraschoenberg.