In a year where there were only four candidates across the state marked as belonging to the Moderate Party on the ballot (most people never saw them and the fifth and sole successful Moderate Party candidate ran in a nonpartisan race), 9249 voters used the so-called “master lever” to vote for the Moderate Party.
With only 971 Moderates registered in the state as of October 1, 2012, the master lever gave the Moderates a 952.52% amplification of what its registration should’ve provided. Moderate chair Ken Block referred to this as “horrific” on Twitter, and proceeded to lay out the case for abolishing the master lever, claiming that 20 potential Moderate candidates didn’t run because of the lever.
While the master lever is a major hurdle to organizing a third party (and its abolition would be good), it was particularly short-sighted of those candidates to refuse to run. For one thing, the more candidates running under a party’s name increases name recognition for the party, translating into more votes. Furthermore, in communities where there were no Moderates, many of those votes were wasted.
Fear of the master lever is no excuse for failing to contest elections, nor is the master lever the sole problem that the Moderate Party has (the same should be said of the Republicans). Abolition of the lever is no guarantee that the Moderates will suddenly see their vote numbers increase (they might actually see the opposite). The best exposure the party got all year was that their name and symbol were at the top of the ballot across the state. Voters are still capable of reading party affiliation, and rejecting the parties whose platforms or candidates they reject.
The Moderate platform, while containing admirable ethics and environmental sections, is essentially the same corporate economic and education systems espoused by Republicans and laissez-faire Democrats: don’t increase taxes, give cash away to unproven businesses and charter schools, rely on unreliable data to measure school progress. This platform is simply not that popular among voters in the core urban areas (the data bears that out, Mr. Block did better in the exurbs during his 2010 run for Governor). I’ve mentioned these criticisms before.
But make no mistake, the Moderates are growing. There were 971 of them on October 1st of this year. Three years ago in 2009 there were only 52 on October 1st. Yesterday, WPRO’s Dee DeQuattro placed their registration at 1068. That’s a pretty substantial increase, about 10% growth in about a month and a half.
The Moderates face a major test in 2014. It sounds as if Mr. Block is not committing himself to running for governor, saying that he has confidence in whatever candidate his party fields to clear the 5% bar to keep the party on the ballot. That’s a good thing. It would be disastrous for the Moderates to be tied too strongly to Mr. Block, merely because if his energy flags or fails, so does the party’s. Though if they can’t find a candidate, I assume the Moderates will put Mr. Block up again rather than let themselves fail.
Hopefully, a new candidate can gain over 5% support, though once again they’ll have to build name recognition. If that candidate doesn’t make 5%, the media is waiting with the narrative: the Moderates were merely moderate Republicans and in 2014 they decided that they didn’t want to spoil a real Republican’s chances. While that narrative may or may not be true, it’s out there, waiting for the Moderates to prove it wrong.
The Moderate Party has a long way to go. Focusing on appealing to voters across Rhode Island and getting candidates is its major work right now (as I’m sure Mr. Block is far more aware of then I am). Then it has to prevent brain drain from its organization (a couple of its alums joined Governor Lincoln Chafee’s administration). But the Moderates have one advantage the Republicans don’t when contesting elections. No one would mistake a Moderate for a Republican.
As an extra, if you avoided the link to WPRO (don’t get stuck in an echo chamber!), Mr. Block had a killer takedown of the RI GOP in the comments:
Dee DeQuattro gets this one all wrong. 6.5% of the vote in a competitive 4-way race starting from zero is a monumental achievement – I am certain the 5% threshold was written into law because few thought it could be done by a brand new party.
Her biggest swing and miss is that RI does in fact need a new political party – because the state GOP has utterly failed for the 2 decades I have lived here to bring political balance to our state. Whether it was the striking out Strike Force or the empty Clean Slate, to a large extent the state GOP has been tone deaf, missing what RI voters really care about.
The State GOP did not get wiped off of the political map in 2012 because of the existence of the Moderate Party. There were no legislative races where a GOP and Mod showed up on the same ballot. The State GOP is flailing all of its own accord – with a substantial boost from the national GOP messaging which works in TX but not so well in RI.
I am always amused by the hand wringing done by stalwarts in the GOP who fret that silly Rhode Islanders keep voting for the same Dem jokers so they deserve what they get. The more appropriate observation should be why does the GOP think that running the same folks with the same failing message will result in a different electoral outcome.
It will not.