The Bloomberg Primary: Unity08 Loses, Independence (Party) Wins

“I was in 26 states in the last 76 days,” Frank MacKay, chairman of the Independence Party of America, said in a phone interview at 11 p.m. last night while driving through Alabama. “Every single state that I’ve been in, we’re talking ballot access.”

MacKay’s travels highlight why he won a major victory yesterday against the star-studded Unity08 in the below-the-radar contest to see which budding political organization would be in the best position to offer their nomination to Michael Bloomberg if the mayor decides to run for president.

Yesterday, officials of Unity08 announced they were suspending their ballot access operation—which was successful only in Florida and Mississippi so far – and losing two of their founding members, Doug Bailey and Jerry Rafshoon.

In a public letter, the board of directors of Unity08 blamed their stunted growth on a Federal Elections Commission decision limiting their contributions to $5,000, instead of the $25,000 allowed for the Republican and Democratic Parties.

“We were caught in a peculiar catch-22,” the Unity08 directors Bob Bingham, Angus King, Peter Ackerman, Zach Clayton and Lindsey Ullman wrote. “’[W]e wanted to break the dependence on big money by getting lots of small contributions from millions of members, but needed some up-front big money to help generate the millions of members to make the small contributions. And the FEC (in effect, an arm of the parties) didn’t let that happen.”

The letter went on to acknowledge that there is no room for more than one third-party candidate in the race this year. “Mayor Bloomberg seems poised to run on his own (and the fact is that two independent candidacies wouldn’t work) if the parties leave the sensible center open,” wrote the Unity08 directors in what was, in essence, their concession speech.

MacKay agrees.

“If he decides to run, I don’t care if God comes out of the sky, we’re going with Bloomberg,” he said.

Departing Unity08 founders Baily and Rafshoon agree too. The Unity08 directors said the pair were heading to a “a committee forming to draft Mayor Bloomberg should the circumstances seem right.”

While Unity08 was collapsing, MacKay was building his nationwide campaign.

The Virginia Independent Greens announced yesterday they agreed to become an affiliate of the Independence of Party of America (IPOA), making them the second statewide group in the country to do so. The Pennsylvania Reform Party affiliated with the IPOA earlier this year, and the Independence Party in Minnesota – which elected a governor there in 1998 – will vote on whether to affiliate on January 26.

MacKay said his job isn’t to find a candidate, but rather, to see how a third-party presidential candidate can get on the ballot nationwide.

“Every state has different laws,“ MacKay said. “Unity08 was trying to start from scratch. What I’m doing is I’m doing is taking people that have already done it locally, and weeding through.”

While both parties, Unity08 and the IPOA, prefer Bloomberg as their candidate, the two groups would have been trying to achieve different goals with the billionaire mayor’s candidacy.

Unity08 hoped its open nominating process – held online – would attract voters left out of the hyper-partisan primary process and lead to a fusion ticket of one Democrat and one Republican. “The past year has taught us that it’s tough to rally millions to a process, as opposed to a candidate or an issue,” Unity08 directors acknowledged.

The IPOA wanted to establish a permanent third party entity in as many states as possible, coalescing around the principles of voter reform, and led by a serious White House contender. MacKay said many states grant permanent ballot access to parties on whose line a certain number of votes are cast. So, while an IPOA candidate may not get enough support in a given state to win any electoral college votes there, that candidate could garner enough votes to establish an IPOA Party in that state.

“In Minnesota, they need a statewide candidate in every four-year span to get 5 percent of the vote. That’s what their threshold is” MacKay said. In Virginia, the threshold is 10 percent, he said.

“We’re hitting on all cylinders right now,” MacKay said. “All we need is a candidate.”

The Bloomberg Primary: Unity08 Loses, Independence (Party) Wins