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3rd-party endorsement battles will go on

By Paul Choiniere

Publication: The Day

Published November 25. 2012 4:00AM

It appears dual endorsements in Connecticut are here to stay.

Those of you who bothered to vote Nov. 6 probably noticed several candidates had two lines on the ballot. Voters in the Senate race could choose to vote for Democrat Chris Murphy as a Democrat or as the endorsed candidate of the Connecticut Working Families Party. Those choosing Linda McMahon could opt to vote the Republican line or back McMahon as the candidate of the Independent Party. Indeed, McMahon the Independent Party candidate defeated Murphy the WFP candidate 46,107 to 38,202. Unfortunately for McMahon, Sen.-elect Murphy took the overall vote easily, 791,301 to 604,732.

A look at local elections also showed the Independent Party affiliation was more attractive to voters wanting to cast an alternative party vote, but failed to provide victories. In the 19th state senatorial district, for example, Republican Christopher Coutu received 2,019 votes on the Independent line to 1,208 WFP votes for Democrat Catherine A. Osten. Likewise in the 42nd House District, Republican Mike France received 322 votes as an Independent endorsed candidate, while his Democratic opponent, Timothy R. Bowles, received 246 WFP votes. In both cases, however, the Democrat won the election.

Which raises the question; what are these third-party endorsements really worth and why bother?

The Connecticut Working Families Party, which has been around about a decade and grew out of the labor movement, sees its role as trying to move candidates towards the progressive issues it cares about. The reward for the cross-endorsed is two places on the ballot. Voters can show the candidate they value the working families' platform by voting for the candidate on that line, said Taylor Leake, communications director for the Connecticut WFP.

The party's greatest highlight was providing the votes that elected Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2010. Republican Tom Foley, who had no cross endorsement, received 560,874 votes as a Republican while Malloy received only 540,970 as a Democrat, but the 26,308 WFP votes he received made him governor. Certainly most of those voters would have chosen Malloy anyway, but enough of them to get him elected? It's hard to say.

The WFP contends its cross endorsements helped push through the Connecticut legislature one of its primary policy goals, enactment of a first-in-the-nation mandatory paid sick leave law. And though the measure ultimately failed, another WFP policy priority - increasing the state minimum wage - was extensively debated.

While the WFP says it will cross-endorse any candidate that lines up with the progressive issues it considers important, the fact is that those endorsements have gone almost exclusively to Democrats. And in the past election Independent Party cross-endorsements likewise went to Republicans, which has not always been the case. This is reflected in a struggle for leadership of the party and what its priorities should be.

Both Michael Telesca of Waterbury and John L. Dietter of Danbury maintain they are chairman of the Independent Party of Connecticut. The Dietter faction sees the party's primary role as strengthening the hand of conservative Republican candidates in close races, a counterpoint to the WFP line for Democrats. Telesca, conversely, wants a genuinely Independent Party, willing to cross-endorse Democrats or Republicans willing to buck their parties on some issues, challenging both big government and the growing influence of corporations. In 2000 the Connecticut Independent Party endorsed anti-corporate crusader Ralph Nader, who was aghast to learn the party had this year backed the former pro-wrestling CEO, McMahon.

It is unclear how the dispute in leadership will play out, with both the courts and Secretary of the State office reluctant to get involved and in intraparty fight.

The WFP and Independent parties have had some success at the local level running their own candidates. The WFP has three members on the nine-member Bridgeport Board of Education and worked to defeat a proposed charter change that would have replaced elected board members with those appointed by the mayor, currently Democrat Bill Finch. Hartford has the only minor party registrar, WFP Urania Petit. Independent candidates have won local elections in Waterbury, Winsted, Newtown and Danbury.

But the greatest influence of these minor parties will, for the foreseeable future, remain their cross-endorsements, their vote totals in the past election securing future appearance on the ballot. In terms of registration it is not close, with about 222 WFP registered voters in the state, compared to around 13,933 Independents.

And the Independents appear to have a name advantage, one synonymous with the largest voting block in Connecticut - unaffiliated voters.

Yet whether voting WFP or Independent, with few exceptions voters will still be picking Democrats and Republicans.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.

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