In a country that's increasingly polarized, where political gridlock seems worse than ever before, there's a new movement called the “Centrist Project” that's aimed at electing more independents to office.
Former Washington State Republican Party Chair Chris Vance is now trying to grow the movement in Washington state, despite the uphill battle that third-party movements face in America's political duopoly.
“Every other third party movement is based on fringe ideas, far left or far right,” said Vance.
The Centrist Project, meanwhile, aims to shift increasingly partisan politics more to the middle. Founders of the movement said they’re organizing, fundraising and considering running Independents for governor or U.S. Senate in states including Wyoming, Utah, Maine, Alaska, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska to start.
“The theory behind this, at least in the beginning, is what they call their Fulcrum strategy where if you win a few races, you deny the majority to either party and force them to come to the center,” said Vance. “If they could elect two or three independent U.S. senators, so neither Republicans or Democrats controlled floor of Senate, it would force the two parties to negotiate.”
While Washington state isn't on the target list currently, the group said that could change down the road depending on opportunities for viable, independent candidates.
“It's very young. I don't know how big it's going to become,” said Vance. “I don't know what its future is in Washington state, but I think it makes a lot of sense in this state. We have an independent spirit. We have a tradition of electing moderate politicians. I think this centrist movement is what's needed in this state and the entire country.”
University of Washington Political Science Professor Mark A. Smith says while he doesn’t see the movement taking off on a grand scale, he believes it could make a difference on a smaller scale.
“The fact that it hasn't happened already that probably tells you something about the way the system is designed that makes this hard,” said Smith.
Smith said challenges for third party candidates include the structure of U.S. elections, ballot access for candidates, as well as the support and infrastructure the two main political parties provide.
“So, you have the centrist project coming in and saying we’re going to give you another type of candidate; I think if they try to do that nationwide with a full slate of congressional candidates, state legislative candidates, that’s not going to happen. But, if you were to pick a few places, just win say a couple of Senate seats, that might be enough to make a difference,” said Smith.
“If you have that centrist coalition where neither party had a majority in the Senate, and the centrist coalition said, ‘We’re going to bring everyone together; we’re going to negotiate; we’re going to talk; we’re going to do the things that legislatures are supposed to do,' I could imagine that working,” Smith said.