What Charlie Crist Can Learn From Jesse Ventura and Other Successful Independents

Categories: Politicks
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Charlie Crist is set to announce his intention to run as an independent for Florida's open Senate seat today. Independent politicians are incredibly rare in America's two-party system. An independent win is even rarer, though not unprecedented. So Crist's venture isn't completely uncharted. Here are the top five successful independent candidates who have run for statewide office and actually pulled it off, and what Crist can learn from them.

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Jesse Ventura, former governor of Minnesota

Similarities: While Ventura was technically affiliated with the Reform Party, his campaign was run on a shoestring budget. However, he managed to incite enough rage over divisive politics as usual to pull out a win.

Differences: Ventura ran as an outsider, which is incredibly difficult to do for Crist considering he's been a politician for the majority of his adult life. Crist also lacks Ventura's larger-than-life charisma.

What Crist can learn: Ventura used the Internet and grassroots organization to his advantage. This is going to be absolutely integral for Crist. There's a heck of a lot of unemployed kids with poli sci degrees sitting around who understand the viral Internet. (Hire them, Crist.) He can also paint himself as an "ideological outsider." Emphasize the most divisive and outrageous tendencies of both parties, and Crist can paint himself in the sensible middle. A clever ad campaign would help.

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Joe Lieberman, senator from Connecticut

Similarities: Here's the most recent example with the most direct correlation to Crist. A moderate whose differences within his party led to his losing the Democratic primary to more ideological Ned Lemont. Lieberman also lost popularity among Dems thanks to a picture of him "kissing" George W. Bush, while Crist's hug with Obama has done him no favors.

Differences: The Republican in the race, Alan Schlesinger, got caught up in a gambling scandal and raised little money. The National Republican Party even issued a statement saying it would prefer Lieberman over Ned Lamont.

What Crist can learn: Get Kendrick Meek caught up in a gambling scandal. Actually, we wouldn't be surprised if Crist attacked Meek early and often with the intention of exposing him as materialistic.

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Bernie Sanders, senator from Vermont

Similarities: There are very few similarities, except Sanders is a lifelong politician with big-name recognition in his state. Sanders, however, is a "democratic socialist" and goes hard left instead of finding himself in the middle.

Differences: The Democrats ran candidates against Sanders when he was a representative but gave them little support and never campaigned against him. It helps that he caucuses with the Dems. Though in Crist's case, both parties will be attacking him full-fledged.

What Crist can learn: Sanders has been successful because he has defined his own political standings. Crist needs to clear up some of the murk around his ideology and point to his record the best he can to illustrate that.

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James B. Longley, former governor of Maine

Similarities: Longley was a lifelong Democrat with moderate stances. Knowing he couldn't defeat competitors in the primary, he avoided it and ran as an independent.

Differences: Longley, as a political appointee, was known for making government more effective and efficient.

What Crist Can Learn: One of Longley's opponents credited the independent win to "distrust and cynicism about politics and politicians" and "widespread concern over the economy." Again, it's difficult to do this when you're Crist, but he can try to blame some of the economic slump in Florida on the more conservative agenda of his predecessor, Jeb Bush (who will likely quickly endorse Rubio).

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Angus King, former governor of Maine

Similarities: King was an independent up against two well-funded affiliated opponents. But one, Susan Collins (now a Republican senator) was little known, much like Kendrick Meek seems to be.

Differences: King also benefited from a Green Party candidacy that siphoned votes away from Democrats.

What Crist Can Learn: Not much he hasn't learned from the others, unless he can incite a minor candidate to siphon votes away from either side. Is it possible to find someone more conservative than Rubio?
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