Political Aptitude Test

July 11, 1996


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Finally, The Answer

Third Parties Struggle For Credibility

By Bill Schneider/CNN

WASHINGTON (July 11) -- Now that Ross Perot and Dick Lamm have declared themselves candidates for the Reform Party's presidential nomination, it looks like we'll have a three-party contest in November.

Our question this week asks, what's the greatest challenge facing the Reform Party candidates for president?

It is...?

A) Gaining credibility

B) Raising money

C) Finding issues

D) Choosing a running mate, or

E) Getting on the ballot

And the answer is...A) Gaining credibility.

The Reform Party has plenty of issues: campaign reform, fiscal reform, entitlement reform and lobbying reform, and the party is making its way on to many state ballots.

Now that the Supreme Court has eased restrictions on campaign spending by political parties, money may not be as big of a problem for the Reform candidate, even if it's someone other than Ross Perot.

The biggest hurdle third-party candidates always face is the perception they can't win. Voters fear that if they vote for a third party, they may be throwing away their vote.

Frank Sesno, CNN Washington Bureau Chief: Although there's always the risk that by voting for any third-party candidate, voters could be not only throwing away their vote, but hurting their second choice. What about that?

Schneider: That's right; it has happened before. In 1968, George Wallace voters preferred Richard Nixon to Hubert Humphrey, but by voting for Wallace they were taking votes away from Nixon and helping Humphrey.

In 1980, John Anderson voters preferred Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan, but by voting for Anderson, they were taking votes away from Carter and helping Reagan.

Sesno: How does the third-party candidate acquire credibility?

Schneider: Well, from the polls. If the polls show that the Reform Party candidate has a real chance of winning, then people will not feel that their vote is wasted.

Right now, the Reform Party has two candidates for president -- Ross Perot and Dick Lamm. One of them is unliked; the other one is unknown. Credibility, I think, could be a serious hurdle for both of them.

Sesno: Can credibility be gained through dollars?

Schneider: Credibility comes through events, two kinds of events in the campaign. Conventions always give a bounce to the candidate. The Reform Party is going to have two, one-day meetings to choose and announce their nominee. But the new party is going to have to compete for attention with the Republicans, who will be meeting the same week. Debates also enhance a party's credibility. Ross Perot got a lot of credibility out of the 1992 debates.

The question is, will the Reform Party candidate be included in the debates. I can imagine that Bob Dole will say he's not going to appear with Ross Perot unless they also invite Ralph Nader, in which case President Clinton won't appear, and then you could have a real mess.

This story originally appeared on CNN's "Inside Politics Extra."

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