While Republicans and Democrats prepare for a clash between President Obama and the GOP presidential nominee in November, a nonpartisan political reform group called Americans Elect is hoping to offer voters a third option. The organization plans to let independents and disgruntled moderates from both parties pick their own candidate, and it's busy gathering signatures to earn its standard bearer a spot on ballots in all 50 states. Just who are these folks, and could they be the X factor in the 2012 election? Here, a brief guide:
What is Americans Elect hoping to accomplish?
It sounds a lot like hope and change. The group's "revolutionary" goal is to let voters directly choose a presidential ticket, bypassing the primary process entirely. The idea is that candidates will be able to be themselves instead of tacking hard to the political extremes to win over the hardliners who often decide GOP and Democratic primaries. The aim is to field a truly bipartisan ticket — with a presidential candidate from one party, and a vice presidential nominee from the other — to strike a blow against the gridlock in Washington, and begin a new era when Republicans and Democrats can work together without fear of being "primaried."
How does the group plan to achieve that lofty goal?
Americans Elect plans to hold an online "national primary" in June. "With a click of your mouse, you can become a delegate and help nominate a well-qualified candidate who will appear on the ballot nationwide," says former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, "resulting in a genuine three-way race for the presidency." The group has collected nearly 2.5 million petition signatures, earning its ticket a spot on the ballot in 18 states, so far.
Who are the possible candidates?
The best known candidate to declare for Americans Elect is former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, a maverick Republican who boasts roughly 2,000 supporters on the Americans Elect website. (Several lesser known Americans Elect candidates have as few as two pledged supporters.) Americans Elect participants are also trying to draft more prominent candidates: For instance, roughly 6,500 people want to draft Ron Paul, nearly 2,400 are trying to woo Jon Huntsman, and about 900 want Michael Bloomberg. But some options are beyond implausible: The group's fourth most-popular draft candidate is Barack Obama.
Whose idea was this?
Americans Elect was started with $5 million in seed money from private equity executive Peter Ackerman, and the organization is run by Ackerman's son, Elliot Ackerman. It has raised $22 million, mostly from $100,000-plus checks from 55 people, but since it's officially a social welfare charity, not a political party, they get to remain anonymous. The group has a nine-member board of directors — pulled together and chaired by Peter Ackerman — which can vet and veto candidates who aren't "centrist" enough, although a majority of the organization's online membership can override them.
Will Americans Elect affect the 2012 race?
In tight swing states, a third candidate could certainly tip the scales, says Harold Meyerson in the Los Angeles Times, potentially "throwing the election" to the major-party candidate who otherwise would have lost. And that's too bad — the last thing this nation needs is a presidential election decided by a group spearheaded by a bunch of anonymous rich people. If this is a revolution, "it's a revolution of the 1 percent." Well, there's no denying that "the mood in the country is toxic," says Douglas Schoen at The Daily Beast. When Ross Perot ran in 1992, he drew "both candidates toward the center." If the Americans Elect ticket can do the same, wouldn't that be a welcome change?