US ELECTIONS

The candidates in the US presidential race offering an alternative

Dissatisfied with Trump and Clinton, many voters are unaware they have other choices

Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein.DOMINICK REUTER / REUTERS

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Jill Stein will not be the first female president of the United States, but the Green Party candidate could prevent another woman, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, from reaching that goal. Like Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and the anti-Trump independent Evan McMullin, Stein presents herself as an alternative to the least popular candidates to run on the country’s two major party tickets in many years.

Though none of them has the votes to win the White House, they could lure away enough supporters to keep the Republican or Democratic candidate away from the presidency. And they would not be the first group to ruin a conventional presidential nominee’s best-laid plans.

Many Democrats still shudder when someone mentions Ralph Nader. The environmentalist and long-time defender of consumer rights who made a bid for the White House on the Green Party ticket is considered the man responsible for the second George W. Bush administration. Nader never received enough votes to even dream of sitting in the Oval Office but the voters he managed to woo in key states like Florida shattered former vice president Al Gore’s dream of a third consecutive Democratic administration in the White House after Bill Clinton.

Some embittered Sanders supporters swear they will never cast their ballot for Clinton. They see candidates like Stein as more acceptable alternatives

In late July, the Democratic National Convention confirmed the nomination of another Clinton for president: former First Lady Hillary. Hours before the four-day conference began in Philadelphia, hundreds of protestors gathered downtown where they held up posters with environmentalist slogans and chanted Jill Stein’s name.

Many were wearing Bernie Sanders t-shirts and pins. The Vermont Senator who fought Clinton for the nomination to the bitter end finally endorsed her and asked his supporters to vote for her in November. Yet some embittered Sanders supporters in Philadelphia and in other parts of the country swear they will never cast their ballot for Clinton. They see candidates like Stein as more acceptable alternatives.

Gary Johnson was also in Philadelphia and at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland the week before. The Libertarian Party leader who received a million votes in 2012 is boldly courting on those voters who are hostile to both Clinton and Trump. Many Democrats say they will vote for Clinton while pinching their nose and will only do so to avoid a Donald Trump presidency. Many Republicans are angry at their party’s choice but admit they will vote for him to avoid what they see as a greater evil: Clinton. Both candidates are trying to lure the most disenchanted voters within their rival’s camp.

But alternative party candidates like Stein and Johnson have also jumped into the fight. CNN held two townhalls with the Libertarian candidate and is expected to hold another event with environmental activist Jill Stein next week.

The objective of both candidates is to enter one of the three presidential debates that will begin in late September. The last independent candidate who was able to join in was Ross Perot in 1992. Since 2000, a candidate may only participate in such a debate if he or she has the support of 15% of the US electorate based on an average received from the most recently published results from five national opinion polling organizations.

On Monday, the virtually unknown former CIA agent and Republican unexpectedly announced his bid for the presidency as the anti-Trump conservative alternative

According to RealClearPolitics, Johnson is leading in the polls with 8.6 percent while only four percent of voters intend to vote for Stein. Still, both are basically unknown to most US voters: 63% of those surveyed in July did not know who Johnson was and 68% said they did not know anything about Stein. These early polls do not include independent candidate Evan McMullin, who joined the race on Monday.

On Monday, the virtually unknown former CIA agent and Republican unexpectedly announced his bid for the presidency as the anti-Trump conservative alternative. Though the public is even less familiar with him than Johnson and Stein, McMullin seems to have the backing of some influential Republicans who have forsworn allegiance to Trump. According to some news reports, an old Mitt Romney donor might be propping up McMullin’s campaign. Romney made an unsuccessful run for the White House in 2012 and has been a strong critic of Donald Trump.

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Meanwhile, fifty individuals who served in senior positions in past Republican administrations published a letter on the same day saying that a Trump presidency “would put at risk our country’s national security and well-being.” One of the signatories, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Roger Zakheim who served under George W. Bush told the BBC that McMullin was an “interesting” alternative.

English version by Dyane Jean-François.