Will CA Independent Candidate Influence a Presidential Independent Run?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Steve Poizner made history with his Independent run for state Insurance Commissioner by nabbing the top spot in the June primary. If Poizner goes on to capture the commissioner’s job his success as an independent in arguably the most influential state in the union just might have national repercussions. I’m talking about potentially influencing someone interested in the big job in Washington, D.C.

There is no question a Poizner win might influence others to run as Independents in the Golden State where Republican voter registration continues to fall and challenge to one-party rule seems inevitable.

Independents and third party candidates have been elected in other states. The current governor of Maine is an Independent. I admit, it’s a bit of a leap, but what’s intriguing is a Poizner win actually could give a boost to an Independent try for the White House in 2020.

Speculation about a possible White House bid by retiring Ohio governor John Kasich has surfaced. Kasich said an Independent run for the presidency was unlikely but he would not take that option off the table when questioned by CNN in April.

There is an obvious connection between Poizner and Kasich. Poizner was a national co-chair for Kasich’s presidential run in 2016 and served as the Ohio governor’s California fundraising chairman. Kasich in turn encouraged Poizner to run for the job of Insurance Commissioner as an Independent.

Kasich hasn’t determined how or if he will approach the 2020 campaign. He was a guest speaker at former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Assemblyman Chad Mayes’ New Way California event in Los Angeles intended to revive the state Republican Party with a more centrist message.

Yet, with options open and a close relationship with Poizner, a Poizner success could nudge Kasich toward a run as an Independent.

Not that it would easy.

An Independent candidate has to jump many hurdles to get on all the state ballots. Without a party affiliation, fundraising will be hard. The track record of independent runs for the presidency is littered with failures.

The best efforts were businessman Ross Perot’s run in 1992 capturing 19% of the vote and helping Bill Clinton capture the White House against incumbent George H. W. Bush and Theodore Roosevelt winning 27% of the vote with his Bull Moose campaign (with California Governor Hiram Johnson as his running mate) to secure 88 Electoral votes, more than incumbent Republican William Howard Taft but losing to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Saying that the former well-known president had an advantage as an independent in 1912 is an understatement, something Kasich would not enjoy.

Claremont-McKenna College political science professor John Pitney doesn’t think a Poizner run would be a good test for a Kasich run. “I don’t think that the Poizner candidacy offers many lessons at the national level.  He is the former occupant of a job that is important but obscure to most voters. The post deals with a fairly narrow range of issues, so ideology does not play as big a role as it does in races for higher offices,” Pitney said.

“Poizner is rich and has rich friends. He can raise enough to make a credible race for a lower-tier state office.  A presidential campaign requires much more money, and contributors are hesitant to finance a long-shot race, especially when the incumbent is nasty, vindictive, and eager to use his office to punish his enemies,” Pitney concluded.

Still, Kasich may just have a secondary objective. Clearly, he would jump into the race to win. But if he doesn’t win he must also know that an independent campaign can help deny the president a second term. History shows that third party candidates (Teddy Roosevelt in 1912; John Anderson in 1980; Ross Perot in 1992) have taken away votes from incumbents helping challengers to prevail.

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