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Beware: 'Radical Centrists' On The March

Never heard of Americans Elect? You will soon. The group, which I wrote about for the new issue of the magazine, is seeking to get on the ballot in every state for the 2012 election and to nominate a bipartisan ticket for president and vice president in an online convention in June. They held their big introductory press conference at the National Press Club in Washington today; more importantly, perhaps, they announced today that they have secured ballot access in Ohio, after having already secured it in Alaska, Arizona, Nevada, Kansas, Florida and Michigan. They have collected 1.9 million petition signatures in all, more than halfway to the needed goal of 2.9 million. They are also nearing their $30 million fundraising goal -- the bulk of it in chunks of more than $100,000 from about 50 well-heeled backers -- and have close to 150 paid staff.

There have been previous efforts by "radical centrists" who take a pox-on-both-houses approach to dysfunction in Washington -- last time around, there was Unity '08, which also sought to nominate a bipartisan ticket online, and then there's No Labels, which was created recently by a group of Beltway poo-bahs to encourage bipartisan behavior in Washington. But Americans Elect could cause much more of a stir than either of these. Unity '08 foundered because it could raise money only in $2,500 increments, like any other presidential campaign; but it challenged that limit, and a court ruling last year determined that a ballot-access effort that wasn't actually promoting a specific candidate does not have to abide by the $2,500 cap. So Americans Elect has been able to raise the pile of money needed to fund a serious ballot-access campaign. Most third-party candidates struggle because they have a hard time getting on ballots after they announce, typically fairly late in the process. But Americans Elect will in all likelihood be on every state's ballot, or close to it.

Which party will their bipartisan ticket hurt most? They don't really care. Elliot Ackerman, one of the group's leaders, told me that he was recently challenged by a Democrat who said, “‘Think how much this would hurt President Obama if Hillary Clinton ran with Jon Huntsman.’” Ackerman’s boyish face broke into a grin in recalling the moment. “Our reply was, ‘I don’t think that would hurt President Obama. I think that ticket will win.’” Read all about it here. And read Ezra Klein's detailed debate with one of the group's chief champions here.