There’s a lot of chatter about filling up the political middle with lawmakers willing to work together, but now there’s a political action committee specifically situated to do just that. On Wednesday, The Centrist Project announced the creation of The Centrist Project Voice, a PAC that will promote middle-of-the-road candidates regardless of party affiliation.
Both the PAC and the corresponding group, which launched last fall, are the brainchildren of Charles Wheelan, author and Dartmouth College lecturer (and occasional U.S. News & World Report contributor). Wheelan wrote a book called “The Centrist Manifesto” that looks into ways to break up the current partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and beyond. One way, Wheelan suggests, is to elect more independents to the U.S. Senate. “If you read the book that I wrote, it literally says things like, ‘We need to give Angus King more friends to play with,’” Wheelan told Whispers. King is, of course, the independent senator from Maine who currently caucuses with Democrats but can move to the GOP as he feels.
The Centrist Project hopes to elect five centrist senators, like King, by 2020.
Focusing on the Senate makes sense, Wheelan explained, because the White House – due to the Electoral College – is practically off-limits to a third-party challenger. (We’re still “Waiting for Perot,” after all.) The House has too many races and too many safe districts to really make a dent, Wheelan continued. But a U.S. Senate race can’t be gerrymandered because it’s statewide and there’s no runoff, which means that in a three-way race – with a Democrat, a Republican and an independent – that independent candidate could win with only 34 percent of the vote.
Since the project’s inception, Wheelan has changed his tune about trying to build up an actual Centrist third party and plans to use the group and the PAC to endorse candidates from either party who are willing to subscribe to four tenets: fiscal responsibility, environmental responsibility, social tolerance and commitment to economic opportunity.
“If you are willing to sign onto that, then we’re with you – you can be a Republican, you can be a Democrat or you can be an independent,” Wheelan said. “Independents are best because then you don’t have the party baggage.”
On Wednesday, the group also announced its first endorsement, and it was for an independent candidate. Larry Pressler is running for U.S. Senate in South Dakota as an independent, even though he previously served three terms in the upper chamber as a Republican. “I left the Republican Party with great pain because I feel that the right wing has too much influence in it,” Pressler told Whispers.
Pressler is a good fit, according to Wheelan, because he has name recognition in his home state. The older folks remember him as a politician and he’s known to some young people as a professor, as he’s worked at several universities across the state. Pressler also fits into one of the three categories of people Wheelan feels would have a shot at winning. “One would be someone who’s defected – like if Olympia Snowe would run as an independent or centrist, instead of a Republican – Pressler is that,” Wheelan pointed out. The other two categories include someone outside of politics – perhaps a celebrity or a businessperson from Silicon Valley. “They would be credible,” Wheelan said.
“And the third would be anybody who Mike Bloomberg wanted,” Wheelan said, pointing out the clout of the former New York City mayor.
That being said, it’s still a huge uphill climb. Pressler said he’s only expecting to raise about $100,000 for his entire campaign, while his Democratic and Republican challengers will reap millions after the state’s June 3 primary. The battle for party control of the Senate also is fierce, and while The Centrist Project Voice can help, it’s limited by Federal Election Commission law.
“We are going to emphasize the low-budget nature of our campaign,” Pressler said. He’s also vowing to only serve one term so that he never has to raise money in office. And the 72-year-old is challenging his opponents to a 5-mile run, something he does every day, if anyone questions his age.
“This could be very significant in American history,” Pressler said. “It’s a little far-fetched, but at least they’re trying.”