Has the time come for a third force?

Rupert Cornwell in Washington finds growing disaffection among voters and presidential hopefuls alike with the two-party electoral system

These are of course the dog days, when news is scarce, when sane human beings do anything to escape the sub-tropical steambath that is Washington DC in late August. But none of this entirely explains why so much ink should have been spilt over the premature retirement of a Democratic Senator from New Jersey last week, even when he is a former Rhodes Scholar, basketball hall-of-famer and one of the most esteemed figures on Capitol Hill.

Bill Bradley, however, is more than just a celebrity defector from a party in a mess. Wittingly or otherwise, he has become symbol of two realities of American public life: a growing disillusion among its more thoughtful practitioners at how two-party, adversarial politics currently function on Capitol Hill; and the increasing readiness of a frustrated electorate to look outside the system for independent candidates.

Those seeking firm commitments and the rhetoric of an incipient campaign did not gain much comfort from the senator. "Where the road leads, I do not know," he said, even as he noted that he was "not ruling out an independent route". Probably Mr Bradley is genuinely undecided. But as the endless speculation about the plans of General Colin Powell testifies, rarely has America's political terrain been as favourable to an independent candidacy.

Bill Bradley is but the latest potential recruit to a cause stretching back at least as far as John Anderson, who won 6 per cent of the vote when he challenged Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. Well before Mr Bradley, prominent senators of both parties, like the Republican Warren Rudman and the Democrat Timothy Wirth, decided that the game was no longer worth playing. And all the while, the disaffected centre has grown, culminating in the extraordinary 19 per cent of the popular vote garnered three years ago by Ross Perot.

Mr Perot would still attract over 15 per cent this time round. The same polls moreover show that at least as many Americans consider themselves independents as Republicans or Democrats, and that up to half the electorate would welcome a third choice if the main party contenders next year are a distrusted Bill Clinton and an uninspiring Bob Dole.

Thus does the pool of non-aligned voters seeking a "new politics" steadily grow, and so does the number of those who offer it. At the very moment Mr Perot entered the 1992 contest, Paul Tsongas briefly led the chase for the Democratic nomination, warning in his austere cross-party "Economic Call to Arms" of the disaster looming if America did not put its financial house in order.

The former Massachusetts senator is now an unabashed independent. The Concord Coalition he leads with Mr Rudman crusades for a balanced budget, while Mr Tsongas has publicly urged Gen Powell to run. Mr Perot dances on the edge of a second run, while Lowell Weicker, a former Republican senator who was elected Governor of Connecticut as an independent, is mulling a challenge.

Not that the task will be easy. Gen Powell has yet to decide whether he will run and the prevailing punditry is that he will not. His supporters, a group called Citizens for Colin Powell, last week filed papers with the Federal Election Commission that will allow them to become a fully fledged campaign committee. But that is only the start. Money must be raised, local organisations put together, and signatures collected to have his name on the ballot in all 50 states. Gen Powell is often called a "Black Eisenhower" but that last military man to become President did so as a Republican, able to draw on the existing structure and resources of the party.

Most important of all, Gen Powell has yet to deal with the actual issues. The solution, he declares in his standard lecture-circuit speech, "isn't some new programme or more government ... it's not screaming at our politicians or watching them scream at each other".

But what the solution might be, thus far he is not saying. And why should he, one might ask, given (if US News & World Report is right) his rating of 71 per cent?

Nor has he ever disclosed his party allegiance, though these are assumed to be marginally Republican. In any case, in putative three-way match- ups, he takes more votes from Senator Dole than from Mr Clinton, allowing the latter to win a narrow plurality. Unsurprisingly, the President's campaign strategists believe that a Powell run this time could be Mr Clinton's best chance of keeping the White House, just as Mr Perot helped give him it in 1992.

A Bradley candidacy would be different, taking moderate Democratic support from Mr Clinton, just as a run by the Rev Jesse Jackson would eat into the Democratic constituencies of blacks and other minorities. So, war- gamers of the independent cause might reckon, why not combine Gen Powell and Mr Bradley into an up-market "Dream Ticket" that would surely be invincible? And is the idea so far-fetched? After all, the senator acknowledged last week he had "been in touch with" the general about his decision. And, given the electorate's enduring frustrations, what thoughts could be more natural?

Suggested Topics
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
filmDirector said film would 'never have been financed' with ethnic minority actors in key roles
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
film
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Investigo: International Finance Analyst

£270 - £300 per annum: Investigo: An exciting opportunity to join an internati...

Recruitment Genius: CAD / CAM Ladies Cocktail & Eveningwear Gerber Grader

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Field Sales Rep -Management Software - £45,000 OTE

£28000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £45,00 + pension: h2 Recruit Ltd: A great new ...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?