Bill Clyde has never held political office, has not raised much campaign cash and does not have the backing and organizational help of a major political party — yet he’s one of two third-party candidates running in the 2nd congressional district.
A Green Party candidate, Clyde is one of several minor party and unaffiliated candidates who will are competing this year for one of Connecticut’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Like Clyde, they may have a liberal bent. Or they may be conservative or libertarian. But they all have one thing in common – contempt for the way the major parties are running things.
“People are fed up with what’s going on in Washington,” said Clyde, who is trying to unseat Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.
Dan Reale, a 32-year-old from Plainfield, is running for Courtney’s seat, too, as a Libertarian. He says Democrats and Republicans “fight like cats and dogs, but at the end of the day, they agree on stuff.”
Clyde is using up vacation days and other time off from his job as a college professor to run for Congress, and he’s optimistic about his chances. “I think I can win,” Clyde said. “But I don’t know if I’m going to win.”
Like most third-party candidates, Clyde and Reale, although they differ on ideology, share a passion for change and new ideas.
Clyde, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, calls himself “an agent for change.” He is a proponent of campaign finance reform, term limits, greater focus on education, and a “balanced” effort to address climate change.
Reale said he was provoked to plunge into politics by the state of the economy. He said his job as a freelance paralegal who worked largely on foreclosures made the economy’s weakness even more evident to him.
“The problem is not going to get fixed unless someone steps up,” he said.
He advocates a smaller government, health insurance reform, the re-importation of pharmaceuticals from overseas, the end of the federal government’s role in education and gun rights.
Congressional scholar Tom Mann of the Brookings Institute said third-party candidates know the difficulties they face when they enter a race.
“Most of them aren’t deluding themselves,” Mann said. “They know they are not going to win but they run anyway.”
Clyde acknowledges, “Courtney wins by wide margins.”
He also knows the Green Party does not hold a single seat in Congress. Every member of the House of Representatives is a Republican or Democrat. The Senate does have two independent members, but they caucus with the Democrats.
Few can break the two-party system. Most third-party and unaffiliated candidates are up against rivals who have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of dollars in campaign cash to promote their candidacies, not to mention the resources of the nation’s dominant political parties.
With little campaign money of his own — he hasn’t received or spent enough to meet the minimum federal filing threshold of $5,000 — Clyde is counting on volunteers and social media exposure, which he hopes will result in mainstream media exposure, to get his message out.
He’s also hoping voter dissatisfaction with Congress this year and the growing number of unaffiliated voters in the 2nd District will give him an edge on Nov. 4.
As with many third-party candidates, friends and acquaintances have directly or indirectly encouraged Clyde to run.
Dinner conversations with friends about problems in health care, education and other issues led him to construct a web site where he posted his ideas and the crafting of “position pieces” he shared with others.
“Everybody who I talked to were very excited about what they heard,” Clyde said. He also said people told him, “No solution to big problems is not acceptable.”
A longtime-administrator and economics professor at Quinipiac University, Clyde now teaches at Manhattan College in New York and commutes to his home in Madison, where he lives with his wife. The couple has five children.
Another Green Party candidate, Jeffrey Russell of Glastonbury, is running against Rep. John Larson, D-1st District. In 2010, Russell, who is homeless, unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate, running his campaign, and sleeping, in his vegetable-oil powered Volkswagen van.
Russell supports a 70 percent cut in the military budget, legalization of marijuana, a “single payer,” government-run health care system, campaign finance reform and tough curbs on greenhouse gas emissions.
Unless endorsed by a party who has a slot on the ballot, a congressional candidate has to collect signatures on a petition from 1 percent of those who voted in the last election in the district. That can be tough.
But John Pistone of Brookfield, who is running as an “unaffiliated conservative” to unseat Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, managed to do so and is on the ballot. Pistone, who could not be reached, flies the tea party as well as the American flag on his web site.
Pistone opposes the Affordable Care Act and supports a flat tax, tougher border enforcement and greater domestic energy production.
A campaign slogan is, “You are not alone — When you vote Pistone.”
Unlike Pistone, Reale was not able to collect enough signatures when he tried to run for Congress in 2010. But the Libertarian Party put him on the ballot in 2012, then again this year.
Although Reale does not see much difference between the two major political parties, he’s tried, and failed, to win the endorsement of the Republican Party at state conventions.
“The good news is a majority of voters here are unaffiliated,” Reale said of the 2nd District.
He said third-party candidates are often hindered by “lack of media connections and lack of experience in public speaking.”
Mann said there are many different reasons why third-party candidates run for office.
Some of them, Mann said, just want to get their message out.
“They see themselves as building a great political movement and see themselves as pioneers,” he said. “The object isn’t to win. The object is to get yourself known.”
And once in a while, a third-party candidate wins. Former Sen. Joe Lieberman is probably the best example of this in recent history. During his re-election bid in 2006, Lieberman lost the Democratic Party primary election but won re-election in the general election as a third-party candidate. Of course, Lieberman had held office as a Democrat for years and had a base of public support.
There are other minor parties in Connecticut, the Independent Party of Connecticut, which bills itself as “the 3rd largest party in Connecticut,” and the Working Families Party. But they are not running any candidates for office this year, preferring instead to support the candidacy of Democrats and Republicans, who will have their names on the ballot twice.