(The following was originally published in FiveThirtyEight.)
Americans often say they’re sick of the two-party structure of American politics, but independent candidates rarely get their support. This year, that might change ever-so-slightly. A number of candidates for governor and senator — such as Mufi Hannemann in Hawaii, Eliot Cutler in Maine, Greg Orman in Kansas and Larry Pressler in South Dakota — are running as neither Republican nor Democrat and could receive greater than 10 percent of the vote. The independent most likely to win is Alaska’s Bill Walker.
Walker, a former mayor of Valdez and 2010 candidate in the GOP gubernatorial primary, is teaming up with Democrat Byron Mallott, a former mayor of Juneau, to form a unity ticket against Republican Gov. Sean Parnell. What makes the pairing so interesting is that Mallott was running for governor as a Democrat, but he quit that bid to be Walker’s running mate. That means the state’s Democratic Party won’t be fielding its own ticket.
Can it work? Alaska isn’t friendly territory for non-incumbents taking on Republican candidates; no Democrat or independent has ever won a majority of the vote in a race for governor or senator against an elected incumbent Republican. The last time a Democrat or independent captured a majority of the vote in a race for an open seat or against an incumbent Republican who had not been elected (i.e. appointed or rising from lieutenant governor to take the place of a resigning governor) was in 1970. Walker is likely to need at least 50 percent of the vote to win because there are no major candidacies this year besides Parnell’s and his own.