Now the IP will have to fight defections

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Despite its generally lackluster performance in Tuesday’s elections, the Independence Party will wake up Wednesday morning positioned to make a move against the major parties in ways it has never been before. The party has build a solid fundraising mechanism, a significant base of new volunteers, and can boast some of the state’s most intriguing young candidates.

But here’s the rub: Can those candidates withstand the siren song of the two major parties, who have been known to attract promising third-party candidates who want to actually win elections?

The IP’s Tammy Lee, who attracted more than 20 percent of the vote in an abbreviated Fifth District congressional campaign, is only one of several young IP candidates who might be lured away from the party by the prospect of major party support. Sixth District congressional candidate John Binkowski (7.8 percent), U.S. Senate hopeful Robert Fitzgerald (3 percent), and Joel Spoonheim (3 percent) in the secretary of state race are also promising young political stars who, I suspect, the DFL wouldn’t mind seeing on a sample ballot somewhere down the road.

Lee was evasive when I asked her about the attraction of a major party candidacy, noting that, “If the DFL or the Republicans embraced moderates, there wouldn’t be a need for the Independence Party.” She added, that she’s undecided about making another electoral run.

Spoonheim was more direct, saying that he could never embrace the major parties because of their reliance on special interest money.

IP state chair Jim Moore acknowledges the threat to his stable of rising stars, but says the party will work hard to build an infrastructure that will retain its candidates. The key, he says, is overcoming the politics of fear that constrains voters from voting their hopes—and rewarding candidates with the best ideas.

Gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson is not about to jump ship—and he may be running again in four years. Tuesday night he was clearly persuaded that the IP had made great strides in 2006 and he wanted to part of its future. But one has to wonder what would happen if a reform-minded DFL—two dozen years outside the governor’s office—came calling in 2008. Would Hutchinson bite, or choose to remain outside the two-party system for another Quixotic run?

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