- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 2, 2007

One thing I appreciate about what I call the “X-treme” candidates in the presidential debates: When they speak, sometimes a real debate almost breaks out.

The X-treme candidates are always out there dancing on the edges of politics like skateboarders at the X Games, the annual televised “extreme sports” that compare to the Olympics the way demolition derbies compare to the Indianapolis 500.

There’s Rep. Ron Paul, the government-shrinking libertarian from Texas, who runs as a Republican while criticizing the party’s spendthrift ways and overseas adventurism.

Democrats have Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio to provoke their liberal souls with his vegan version of red meat. He calls for Vice President Dick Cheney’s impeachment and for immediate withdrawal from Iraq. Such extreme positions serve a dual purpose: They fire up the party’s base while making the party’s top-tier candidates sound like thoughtful moderates, which only helps their appeal to swing voters.

Mr. Paul served similarly in the South Carolina debate of the 10 Republican hopefuls, although few of his fellow Republicans sounded very appreciative.

Messrs. Paul and Kucinich came to mind as I was considering the prospects for what this column is really about, the possible rise of a third-party candidate, generated on the Internet.

Some big names from both parties and from neither party have organized the project, called Unity ‘08 to run a middle-of-the-road bipartisan alternative to the two major parties’ nominees.

The main organizers, Republican consultant Doug Bailey and Democrats Jerry Rafshoon and Hamilton Jordan, who worked in the Carter White House, say they originally planned to write a book together about the broken political system. Somewhere in their discussions someone must have noted there are already about 18 bazillion bipartisan books about how the system is broken.

So they came up with a big idea: Recruit 10 million people as delegates for a virtual convention to be held on the Web in June 2008. Donations will be appreciated, too. Campaigns cost money, but 10 million people need not suffer much pain to raise about $10 million a new party would need to get started.

The Internet gives today’s new movements that kind of new power. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean in 2004 and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama this year have shown how quickly a newcomer with maverick star power and a provocative agenda can raise money as quickly as can the old stars with their old-style organizations.

The timing is right, too. Party allegiance is the lowest since scientific polling began. Up to one-third of American voters now call themselves “independent.” Although most still tend to vote for one party’s ticket or the other, many are waiting to be wooed by a fresh and new alternative.

With the big states pushing their primaries up the calendar to be part of the early action, both parties’ nominees could be chosen by early February. For the first time, that leaves nine months for boredom, second thoughts and candidate implosions to set in. Enter the Unity ‘08 surprise in June and there could be a whole new political ballgame by the time voters are ready to pay serious attention to the campaign after Labor Day.

But who might that Unity ‘08 ticket be? Organizers insist on a ticket that brings a Republican and a Democrat together. If either of the two major party nominees decides to woo Unity’s endorsement, for example, he or she would have to name a vice president from the other party. Not likely, I say, but strange things happen in politics.

If, say, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John McCain win their parties’ nominations, both of them voted for the war. So it could make Unity ‘08 the antiwar alternative. My Newsweek column-writing colleague Eleanor Clift recently raised the possibility of an antiwar Unity ‘08 ticket of Mr. Obama and Sen. Chuck Hegel, a Nebraska Republican Vietnam War veteran. Both men are critics of Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy. But judging by the hyperbolic temperament of most Internet political junkies with whom I have had experience, Messrs. Hegel and Obama might not be maverick enough.

A Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich ticket would have a better chance. Mr. Paul, for example, scored 91 percent support in a recent straw poll of more than 300 Webheads by a Web site called USAElectionsPolls.com, even though he scores barely 1 percent in scientific polls.

The Internet crowd loves their red meat, whether from cows or tofu. That gives X-tremers like Messrs. Paul and Kucinich a chance to win Unity ‘08, if they work out who will be at the top of the ticket.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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