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Activists Spur Movement to Mobilize US Political Moderates

Political activists, frustrated by the polarized nature of American politics, have decided to do something about it in time for the next U.S. presidential election in 2008.

The effort to mobilize political moderates around the country is called Unity08.

It is a centrist effort that seeks to harness the power of the Internet to nominate a bipartisan presidential ticket two years from now, in hopes of capturing support from political moderates, who are fed up with both major political parties.

The group is led by longtime Republican election strategist Doug Bailey and Democrat Hamilton Jordan, who was President Jimmy Carter's chief of staff.

"We think the system is broken," said Mr. Jordan. "I personally think, if our country continues on the direction it is on now for another 15 or 20 years, I think our children will grow up in a much different country. So, we are people that are not satisfied with the current political system, not satisfied with the status quo and are working to offer the American voters an alternative in 2008."

Jordan says his group will rely on the Internet for nominations for president and vice president. He cites moderates like Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia as the type of candidates who would appeal to political centrists.

"We have created a platform for a national conversation, but ultimately, we are going to use the Internet to nominate and support a [presidential and vice presidential] ticket in '08 that is composed of a Democrat and/or Republican on top, a bipartisan ticket, and we think we can win," he added.

Jordan says he is aware that peeling away support from the Republican and Democratic parties in a congressional election year, one when activists in both parties are energized, is a major challenge.

Political analysts point to opinion polls in recent years that show a growing number of Americans have become disenchanted with what they see as polarized politics in Washington.

"But what has happened here is that we have had this sharp division in perceptions about what is good and what is bad between Democrats and Republicans, sharper than we can ever remember it," said Norman Ornstein, who monitors the U.S. political scene at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

Election year appeals to centrists are often overshadowed by partisan rhetoric from both parties.

Democrats last controlled Congress in 1994, and this year hope to regain a majority in one or both chambers of Congress.

"Because we have to take back the Congress, in order to stop this administration and their unaccountable undermining of our constitutional democracy," said Senator Hillary Clinton of New York.

Republicans are equally adamant about trying to keep their majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives.

"Well, I think 2006 does not look like a great Republican year, that is for sure," said Fred Barnes, an editor with the Weekly Standard magazine. "I suspect that Republicans will run a very strong campaign in the fall, and the effect will be to neutralize a bad situation for them, not so that they will gain seats, but that they will probably hold on to the House and the Senate."

Some observers believe the time may be right for a new appeal to the political center.

Former Republican Congressman John Kasich of Ohio was a recent guest on VOA's Press Conference USA program.

"We have a choice. Are we going to be partisans like they are today, and trash [say bad things about] your opponent, or do you want to remember the days when politics under [former President] Franklin Roosevelt or a [former President] Ronald Reagan, where things really made a difference in terms of the way the country functions," he said.

The last time a third party had a major impact on a presidential election was in 1992, when Texas businessman Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote against then President George Bush, and the man who won the White House that year, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.