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Group Seeks Cross-Party Ticket for 2008 Elections

May 31, 2006 at 6:30 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF, NewsHour Special Correspondent: This week, several political veterans are launching a movement to change the look and tone of the 2008 presidential race.

Called Unity08, the group says it plans to draft an alternative presidential ticket headed by either a Democrat, a Republican or an independent. It would be chosen online in early 2008.

They call it a response to the increasing polarization between the two major parties. A recent poll by Princeton Survey Research, commissioned for Unity08, found that 82 percent of Americans think the parties can’t address the nation’s problems because they’re so far apart on the issues, and 73 percent favor more choices in 2008, not just Republican and Democratic candidates.

But third-party bids for the White House have almost never succeeded. The Green Party’s Ralph Nader tried three times; independent Ross Perot fell short twice; John Anderson’s independent candidacy was unsuccessful in 1980, as was George Wallace in 1968.

Well, what makes Unity08 different? We ask two of its founders: Hamilton Jordan was White House chief of staff for President Jimmy Carter; and Doug Bailey, a former Republican Party strategist and founder of the political newsletter The Hotline.

Gentlemen, good to see you both.

HAMILTON JORDAN, Former White House Chief of Staff: Hi, Judy.

DOUG BAILEY, Former Republican Party Strategist: Nice to see you, Judy.

The definition of Unity

JUDY WOODRUFF: First of all, HamiltonJordan,to you. "Unity," what does that mean? Does that mean the Democratsand the Republicans together or does it mean something outside of both theseparties?

HAMILTON JORDAN: Well, let me put it thisway. I went to my son's graduation this weekend, and I heard a great quote I'venever heard before from Albert Einstein. It was that the greatest danger to theworld is not the bad people but it's the good people who don't speak out.

We're trying to build a platform utilizing the Internet thatallows the good American people to speak out about their frustration about thepolarized country that we live in politically.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Unity ticket, Doug Bailey, is thatDemocrats and Republicans coming together or is it something outside theparties, because the assumption is the parties aren't going to like this?

DOUG BAILEY: You know, in all probability, the partyleadership won't like it. Most of the members of both parties would welcome achange in Washington'spolitics. I don't mean members of Congress. I mean members of the parties, thepublic at-large.

We're talking about a Unity ticket, which could be aRepublican and a Democrat running for president, vice president, in whateverorder, a Democrat first, a Republican second, or the other way around, or itcould be an independent candidate who presents a Unity team, representingmembers of both parties.

What's happened, Judy, is that politics in Washington has become so polarized that, infact, the city has become paralyzed; it cannot deal with the major issues, andthe public knows that. And part of the problem -- part of the solution is toget the two parties talking to one another, bring them back to the middle.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But as we just indicated, HamiltonJordan,the history is -- modern political history is that this hasn't succeeded. Whatmakes you think you've got a shot this time?

HAMILTON JORDAN: Well,don't forget, Abraham Lincoln, who was the first third-party candidate to beelected president.

I think times are different. I say people are deeplyconcerned. You mentioned Ross Perot. Mr. Perot jumped into the race at the lastminute, had one issue that he ran on, the budget deficit, was in and out of therace a couple of times, and still got 20 million votes, didn't have theInternet.

Here we are years later. We have the American peopleproperly concerned about the future of our country and the world. We do havethe Internet, and we do have a mechanism through this Unity ticket to drawhundreds of thousands and even millions of people together.

And so this decision -- I think what frustrates many peopletoday is they sit back and hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of peoplein Iowa and New Hampshire make decisions on behalf of both parties and we endup with candidates that don't represent the broad and general voter in themiddle.

Looking for a new kind of candidate

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you look at the people who have beennominated in recent years, I mean, George W. Bush. I mean, Republicans wouldsay that he nominated the mainstream, certainly of the Republican Party. Lookat the Democrats who've been nominated, John Kerry. He didn't win. Al Gore,they didn't get to the White House, but Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton representedthe mainstream.

So where is the fringe candidate that's been the nominee?

DOUG BAILEY: I'm not sure I follow that question, Judy,because what we're talking about is to reach the middle of American politics,means to reach probably 60 percent of the voters. I don't mean that they'll allvote for this particular candidate or the nominee of the Unity08.com effort.

But what is true is that about 60 percent of this country isin the middle politically. And to the degree that they are given a candidatewho is willing to talk about some issues other than the issues that turn on thebase of the far-right or the far-left, like global climate change or energyindependence or the soaring national debt.

Those are subjects that don't get any discussion in Washington, despite thefact that both parties are here. Their leadership is here, but there is noserious discussion of serious and major issues.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So give us an idea, HamiltonJordan,of the sort of candidate you're looking for then? I mean, there are some names.There are, what, 10 or 12 names we hear regularly.

HAMILTON JORDAN: Well, those are -- we don'tgo into this exercise with candidates of our choosing. You know, we're going tobuild a platform that permits a national conversation for average people, byway of the Internet, that allows them to talk about these issues, talk about anagenda, and ultimately have an online convention that allows the people to makethis decision as to who is going to run.

And when you start talking about the practicality of winninga race like that -- you've got to remember we're not talking about winning 51percent of the vote. We're talking about winning 36, 37, 38 percent of thevote. We think that's possible in the environment that we face today in thiscountry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Why? I mean, what -- because I hear yousaying there's frustration. And you see it...

HAMILTON JORDAN: Well,the survey you mentioned, what are the numbers, Doug? You know, you ask in asurvey, "How many people are highly pleased with both politicalparties?" And what's the number, 3 or 4 percent? Most people...

DOUG BAILEY: "How satisfied are you?" Threepercent highly satisfied; 46 percent highly dissatisfied.

Now, there's something going on here. And the public, Ithink, has sort of had it up to here with the way politics is conducted in thiscountry, and particularly in Washington.And they understand that the issues that are not being treated are crucialissues for the future of this country.

They're not the wedge issues. I mean, issues like gaymarriage and abortion are used to turn on the base of the parties. And they areimportant issues and worthy of debate, but they're not crucial to the futureand the future welfare and security of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But there are people who feel passionatelyabout those issues.

HAMILTON JORDAN: Well, sure there are. But you mentionedwhat's different today and a long time ago, when Jimmy Carter was elected.

The difference today is that, in both parties, the veryextreme elements control the nomination process. And a tiny number of people ina few states make these decisions, and we're left with these options that areincreasingly not attractive to the American people.

If you had found the right candidate in 2000 or 2004, andyou could have put that man or woman, given them ballot access in September ofthe election year, they could have won the election. There was broaddissatisfaction with the choices that the American people have.

Past examples

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me get back to the question that Iput to Doug Bailey a minute ago, and that is the people who emerged, the twocandidates who emerged from the process in '04, George W. Bush and John Kerry,you know, whether people like an individual candidate or not, they representedthe mainstream of their parties, didn't -- I mean, isn't that the question?

HAMILTON JORDAN: I don't think -- they werenot attractive to large numbers of voters in the middle.

DOUG BAILEY: And I would add that the campaigns that theyran, there's nothing wrong with this. They ran winning -- each side ran adramatic campaign that did more to turn out their base than any campaign inhistory. The Democrats turned out more base voters than any Democratic campaignin history, and the Republicans did the same, and that's why they won.

But in turning out their base vote, they appealed to theirbase vote on terms of issues that, for the most part, the middle do notperceive as crucial issues to the country which need addressing. They stillneed addressing.

HAMILTON JORDAN: If people...

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me -- I was just going to say...

HAMILTON JORDAN: Go ahead. It's your show.

A new vehicle for change

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I do want to get to -- but I also wantto ask you about the Internet. This is going to be a ticket that emerges fromInternet voting. I don't have to tell the two of you that some Americans don'tgenerally have access to the Internet.

It's something like, what, a quarter of the country, maybe alittle less than that, but principally those who don't are poor. Many of themare African-American, and many of them are less-educated.

HAMILTON JORDAN: How many Americans...

JUDY WOODRUFF: But those people are -- I mean, are yousaying that they won't be part of this process?

HAMILTON JORDAN: No, no, we're sensitive tothat. How many Americans have access to the Iowacaucuses and the New Hampshireprimaries? If you think the system -- not you -- but if your viewers think thatthe current political system is working well and serving the interest of ourcountry, then what we're doing will not be attractive.

I think the system is broken; most people think that it'sbroken. And we think that what we're going to do is invigorate the politicalsystem and allow for this country to be turned around.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Doug Bailey, you're a Republican. Hamilton Jordan,you're a Democrat. Each one of you is fine if it's the other party that's atthe top of the ticket here?

HAMILTON JORDAN: At thispoint in time, when you look at the problems and challenges that face ourcountry, I'm an American first. And I think the idea of the Unity ticket,enabled by the Internet, is a powerful idea that can change the direction ofour country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I want to ask you about the idea of -- inthis country traditionally, political ideas have percolated up from the people,from the so-called grassroots. If this is a good idea, as you say it is, whyhaven't we seen more independent, third-party candidates emerging around thecountry?

I mean, you can almost count on one hand the number ofpeople who have been able to pull this off at lower offices even.

DOUG BAILEY: It really is interesting, Judy. We have in theInternet a vehicle now to organize suddenly, in terms of millions of potentialvoters, so that the opportunity for a third-force, third-way candidacy is morereal now than it has ever, ever been.

One of the interesting things about television andtelevision technology is that nobody in politics ever asked the question: Howcan we use it to help our democracy? They ask the question: How can we use itto win?

OK, now we have a second chance. Whole new technologies aregoing to change everything in this country again. Are we going to be brightenough this time to say: How can we use these technologies to serve democracyin this country?

And I think this is -- to me, this is a transformationalmoment, the 2008 election, because the people sense that our politics is notworking. And the online convention is a transformational way to allow people tochange their country and take it back.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We're going to leave it there. Doug Bailey,Hamilton Jordan, thank you both.

HAMILTON JORDAN: Thank you, Judy.

DOUG BAILEY: Thank you.