Jill Bossi has a problem: Just more than a month from the Nov. 4 election, you might not know who she is.
The U.S. Senate candidate of the new American Party of South Carolina is trying to shift the focus from a two-party system that normally only has room for Republicans and Democrats. A Tega Cay resident, she spoke Tuesday to a small gathering at Winthrop University organized by the campus’ Young Americans chapter, hoping to generate some votes, volunteers and overall attention to her campaign.
The stakes she laid out for November seemed high. Bossi encouraged the students – admittedly, a self-selecting group who would turn out to hear a political candidate speak on campus – to get involved in the elections by noting that their counterparts in Hong Kong are currently demonstrating to have the same democratic choices American students do.
“They’re protesting because Beijing wants to decide who can represent them; the Party wants to decide who they can vote for,” she said. “Well, what’s the difference between that and how Democrats and Republicans decide who represents you here?”
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The problems third parties face in the current two-party “duopoly” was a recurring theme on Tuesday for Bossi, whose campaign has struggled to get media attention for a “long-shot” candidate. She is competing against Republican incumbent Sen. Tim Scott and Democrat Joyce Dickerson.
She told the students she was thankful for anyone who would come to see her speak, because “you can carry the message forward, and if it doesn’t happen this year, it can happen in 2016 or 2018.”
Scott Hoffman, a political science professor, said third party candidates such as Bossi have trouble breaking through, although the Hong Kong comparison is “apples and oranges,” he said.
“It’s not that there’s a Communist Party that won’t let any other parties compete, but there are structural challenges that make winning difficult,” Hoffman said.
In any race for a single-member seat like the U.S. Senate – where the candidate with the most votes wins it all, and the other parties get nothing – it’s natural for voters to gravitate to the two strongest alternatives rather than smaller parties that are unlikely to win, Hoffman said.
“There’s no prize for third, fourth, fifth or sixth place, so those parties will fall away,” he said. “There have been successful third parties, but only when they’ve managed to become one of the major parties... (like) the Whigs died off and were replaced by the Republicans.”
The American Party is hoping for a similar shakeup in today’s politics. Bossi noted a strong independent candidate in Kansas’s Senate race actually forced the Democratic nominee to drop out, which means “if I magically win,” there could be a bloc of four independent senators in an otherwise deeply polarized chamber.
Activists are working to shake things up closer to home as well. Dr. Jim Rex, the chairman of the American Party, said the party’s next goal will be to get a referendum question on the ballot in 2016 allowing voters to recall elected officials for illegal or unethical behavior. The party hopes that will encourage more honest and transparent actions from candidates on the campaign trail.
“It seems like we have a dysfunctional system that’s no longer able to solve our problems, and it’s because candidates campaign now not only by demonizing their opponents but the people who vote for them,” Rex said. “It’s tribal warfare.”
But Bossi also sounded an ominous note on where the country could end up without reform.
“You have to think, why did Hitler come to power? It’s because the people had given up on who they were and what they believed in,” she said. If things get that bad in America, she warns, the consequences will be gravest for the younger generation.
“At my age, I’ll be in my rocker. I’ll be going home soon. It’s my children and grandchildren who will have to deal with it.”