Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (left) and former Republican state Rep. Chris Vance speak at a news conference in 2017 to announce plans to promote centrist-minded politicians in Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Brian Baird (left) and former Republican state Rep. Chris Vance speak at a news conference in 2017 to announce plans to promote centrist-minded politicians in Washington. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Getting rid of the two-party system isn’t as popular as hoped

Setbacks in 2018 derailed an effort by Brian Baird and Chris Vance to boost independent political power.

OLYMPIA — The middle road of politics is one voters aren’t ready to travel.

On Tuesday, Chris Vance and Brian Baird stopped trying, at least through traditional electoral politics.

Vance, a former state lawmaker and leader of the Washington Republican Party, and Baird, a former Democratic congressman now living in Edmonds, announced suspension of their effort to recruit centrist independent candidates as viable alternatives to hopefuls from the Democratic and Republican parties.

“Today it is obvious that Americans, no matter how unsatisfied they are, are not ready to embrace an alternative to our two-party system,” they said in a joint statement accompanying the suspension.

Vance and Baird formed Washington Independents PAC in October 2017 as an affiliate of Unite America, formerly known as the Centrist Project, with a stated purpose of reshaping and reforming the political system. Members envisioned winning elections and forging a national third party.

In 2018, the Washington affiliate raised and spent $100,000 primarily in support of two candidates, Ann Diamond, of Winthrop, and Ned Witting, of Puyallup. Diamond made it through a four-person primary but lost in November to a Republican in what has been a safe Republican district. Witting found himself up against a Republican and a Democrat in the August 2018 primary and finished third.

Across the country, candidates backed by Unite America affiliates suffered similar setbacks. Leaders of the organization regrouped, reviewed results and polling, and decided on a different strategy focused on getting changes like ranked-choice voting adopted. They’ve stopped trying to recruit and support centrist candidates. They’ve stepped back from trying to form another national party.

“When it comes to electing independents, Americans aren’t ready for it,” said Vance, who is no longer a Republican. “There is no path.”

But it was worth trying, Baird said Tuesday, because “the current system is demonstrably failing.”

People are divided ideologically and struggle to talk with each other on matters of politics and governance, he said. Many voters hold the two major parties in such low regard they choose not to participate, leaving power in the hands of those guided by political orthodoxy, he said.

“Some alternative has to happen,” said Baird, who moved to Edmonds in 2010 following a 12-year career in Congress. “Obviously we haven’t found the right choice. But we haven’t given up looking.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@herald net.com. Twitter: @dospueblos

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