Fringe political candidates will be marginalized

In general, Washington state’s so-called “top-two” primary system, which the U.S. Supreme Court validated earlier

this spring, has always struck us as a bad thing because it has the potential to weaken a party structure that has served the nation’s voters well — although not perfectly — for more than 200 years.

On the other hand, if there is a saving grace to the new arrangement, its potential to render fringe candidates irrelevant is probably it.

Under the top-two plan, only the two candidates who win the most votes in the primary election — regardless of party affiliation — will advance to the general election in November.

In theory, this could conceivably result in voters having a choice on the ballot between two Democrats or two Republicans for certain offices.

In practice, however, it’s virtually certain to eliminate the phenomenon of third-party or independent candidates who know going into an election they have no chance of winning but persist in running for no other reason than their desire to hear themselves talk.

More importantly, it should also eliminate the even more baffling phenomenon of citizens wasting their precious vote on some quixotic iconoclast in order to make a statement rather than actually elect a candidate to office.

And that’s not a bad thing.

Paul Nuchims, who last week unexpectedly threw his hat into the race for South Kitsap commissioner, fits the classic description of a fringe candidate, since he’s running as an independent — even though he showed up at the county Democrat meeting this month to ask the party leaders for their endorsement — and also because he knows he has no chance whatsoever of being elected.

“I’m doing this for the betterment of the community,” Nuchims said. “It’s not to just win a race. I seek to change people’s minds about the purpose of their lives. I’m looking at the future, and how we can make changes.”

However, unlike his political role model, Ralph Nader — who in 2000 attracted enough liberal votes as a Green Party candidate to swing the razor-thin presidential election in George Bush’s favor — the top-two primary system in Washington will prevent Nuchims from playing the role of spoiler locally.

And it’s not as though this is an idle consideration.

As recently as 2004, Libertarian candidate Ted Haley assured incumbent Democrat Pat Lantz’s re-election to the Washington State House of Representatives from the 26th District by siphoning off just enough conservative votes from GOP challenger Matt Rice.

Although he finished a distant third in the race with just 1,212 votes, Haley undoubtedly had a direct effect on the outcome, since Lantz’s margin of victory was a scant 471 votes.

“I can’t resist running for politics,” Haley said at the time. “I should be a preacher. I love to get up on the stump and tell people what we should be doing.”

Notice he made no mention of winning — merely satisfying his own urge to express opinions. Nuchims, although Haley’s polar opposite philosophically, voices a similar desire.

“I wasn’t running to win,” he said of his earlier forays into politics in his native West Virginia. “The purpose was educational and to help people understand their lives and how they can effect change for the better. And I enjoyed the debates and the discussion. If I didn’t enjoy running, it wouldn’t be worth doing.”

We’re all for rousing debates and the free expression of one’s views. But at the end of the day, politics, as Otto von Bismarck famously observed, is the “art of the possible.”

Which means we’re far better served when people vote for grown-up, rational candidates who may not be perfect but at least have a possibility of actually being elected to something.

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