Can this splinter candidate win?

John Frohnmayer knows all about the negative impacts of splinter candidates, having seen first-hand his brother's failed bid to become Oregon's governor in 1990.

But the former chairman for the National Endowment of the Arts has not been dissuaded from launching an independent bid for the U.S. Senate. Nor is he convinced he can't win.

Splinter candidates are like a scientific theorem of American politics, guaranteed to produce the opposite of the intended result. It goes something like this: Candidate C minus votes from Candidate B equals Candidate A who followers of both C and B despise.

The theorem has proven virtually infallible since the dawn of the two-party system.

If a petulant and bored Teddy Roosevelt doesn't form his own party to overthrow his chosen successor William Taft, Woodrow Wilson never sees the inside of the White House except on a guided tour.

If southerners John Breckinridge and John Bell don't carve up the south like a Thanksgiving Turkey, Stephen Douglas becomes known as one of our shortest presidents instead of Abe Lincoln becoming known as one of our tallest.

Imagine how different the world would be today if Ralph Nader didn't win 2,883,105 votes, most of them from Al Gore.

Splinter candidates don't win, just as Al Mobely's conservative candidacy didn't come close to winning, but tipped a close gubernatorial race to Democrat Barbara Roberts away from Frohnmayer's brother Dave, a Republican moderate many expected to win. Oregon hasn't elected a Republican governor since.

The power brokers of the Democratic Party have tried to remind John Frohnmayer of these facts, assuring him that he too won't win, but he may hand Republican Sen. Gordon Smith back his seat at a time when he's most vulnerable.

Frohnmayer isn't buying it, instead reminding anyone who will listen that George Washington's concern over the "baleful effects of party" have never been more evident.

Frohnmayer believes he can alter the theorem of splinter candidates. Despite earning only single-digit numbers in early polling, Frohnmayer believes a truly moderate, truly independent candidacy can gain ground, creep up into the teens in polls and come Labor Day emerge as a genuine alternative to party nominees backed and beholden to big-money donors.

"If I am elected," he said last week while visiting Ashland, "I'll be elected to do the bidding of the people, rather than the bidding of the party."

He vows not to caucus with either party if elected, knowing this could cost him important committee appointments. But with a Senate nearly divided in half, a handful of truly independent senators can wield considerable influence. It is a prospect worth considering, if only to see a sledge hammer taken to the business-as-usual partisan politics that have robbed us of genuine leadership in recent years.

With nearly one-third of voters in Oregon unaffiliated, a foundation exists for Frohnmayer to build on. Practically, he needs only to glean about 10 percent away from the edges of the other two candidates to launch a winnable campaign.

The harsh realities of history are against him. But if ever a time a for a serious, independent, moderate movement is needed, surely now must be that time.

If voters will stop and truly consider this critical Senate race beyond the 30-second sound bytes and slick commercials paid for by out-of-state special interest groups, Frohnmayer may indeed have a chance. The chance to make history, not to mention challenge the two-party system in America is important enough to give this candidate every opportunity to win our support.

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