Eighteen months ago, a former Washington state Republican Party chair and a former Democratic congressman came together to launch Washington Independents, a new political-action committee dedicated to supporting centrist, independent candidates for office.
“The American people are hungry for an alternative to the status quo, to the dysfunction and the gridlock in the two political parties,” former state Republican Party Chair Chris Vance said at the time.
Not that hungry, it turns out.
Vance and former Democratic Rep. Brian Baird announced Tuesday that they were suspending all operations of Washington Independents after the national group they partnered with, Unite America, chose to focus on electoral reforms rather than supporting independent candidates. Vance previously described Washington Independents as supportive of “fiscally conservative, pro free enterprise, socially tolerant, environmentally responsible” candidates.
“Today it is obvious that Americans, no matter how unsatisfied they are, are not ready to embrace an alternative to our two-party system,” Vance and Baird said in a statement.
Vance, in an interview, was blunter.
“It didn’t work, we were wrong,” he said, raising his voice for emphasis. “I spent a lot of 2018 talking to donors and potential candidates. I can’t do that now, because I can’t look them in the eye and tell them it will work.”
Previous polling, from Unite America, had found that 75 percent of voters were open to supporting independent, centrist candidates for state Legislature.
But when push came to shove, of 431 independent candidates appearing on ballots nationwide in 2018, just 14 were elected, and only one — Maine Sen. Angus King — won a three-way race, according to Unite America.
Unite America, Vance said, was intended to act as a de facto party organization for independent candidates, providing money, support, campaign consultants and polling.
“The midterm elections failed to demonstrate that there is any meaningful, existing constituency for centrist, independent candidates,” the group wrote in a report on the 2018 elections.
In Washington, Washington Independents threw its support behind three independent legislative candidates. All lost. Two of the three gathered less than 10% of the vote in the primary. The group spent more than $100,000 supporting the failed candidacies, most of that supporting the campaign of Ann Diamond, who was defeated by Republican Keith Goehner in Central Washington’s 12th Legislative District.
An independent has not been elected to Washington’s Legislature since 1889.
Washington still has one famous resident mulling an independent campaign.
Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz continues to ponder a presidential campaign as an “independent centrist.”
“If you believe the two party system is broken, sign the petition,” Schultz’s website says. He spent nearly three months this spring barnstorming the country, decrying partisan battles and calling for the country to “come together.”
But Schultz has gone quiet of late. He hasn’t had a public event since visiting Arizona more than a month ago.
A spokeswoman for his proto-campaign said he is recovering from back surgery. But his social media accounts have also gone silent. He has posted to Twitter only twice in May, after being a near-daily tweeter for most of the spring. Likewise, on Facebook, he posted on Memorial Day after nearly a month of silence.
He is still “actively considering a run,” Erin McPike, his spokeswoman, said.
Vance, who said he’s spoken with the Schultz campaign, said it looks like they’ve paused everything in the wake of former Vice President Joe Biden’s entrance into the Democratic primary.
“It appears right now that moderates and centrists need to fight within the two parties,” Vance said.