As if juggling simultaneous campaigns in more than a dozen swing states wasn't complicated enough. Now, top strategists for President Obama and the eventual Republican nominee will have to contend with a new variable: The possibility that a third-party candidate will attract voters interested in a new way of doing business.
That's the goal of Americans Elect, the independent organization that hopes to nominate a third-party candidate through an internet convention. The group has prepared for their eventual nominee, gaining ballot access in 17 states and gathering signatures or awaiting certification in 18 more. Those include some of the most important swing states in the country -- Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Michigan, Ohio and New Mexico have already certified Americans Elect's spot, while certification is pending in North Carolina.
So who's going to benefit from Americans Elect's work? And could they be putting their thumbs on the scale for one of their own?
First, a note on the group's process: Anyone who wants to seek the nomination must declare their candidacy, submit a statement of candidacy, a biography and a platform. A Candidate Certification Committee will make sure any declared candidate checks the requisite boxes (Spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel made sure to note that committee is checking over "an objective set of qualifications" and that a majority of delegates can override that decision).
Delegates to Americans Elect's online convention can also draft a candidate who hasn't declared an intention to run. The top six vote-getters will advance to the convention.
One of those candidates might have ties to Americans Elect itself. Members of the board of directors are not permitted to run and must stay neutral, but members of the board of advisors have no such restrictions. Wachtel said any member of the board would have to meet the same requirements as a non-board candidate.
And the group has, at times, promoted those advisors. A recent release focused on board member David Walker, the former head of the Government Accountability Office.
"Walker has front-line experience in connection with the many challenges and partisan gridlock in Washington that literally threaten our nation's and our families' futures," says the release, which otherwise contained no immediate news.
"Advisors are permitted to become candidates, but AE would be absolutely neutral on their candidacy and the Advisor would be prohibited from improperly using AE resources," Wachtel told me. But the release sure sounds like something a candidate would put out.
"This nation has faced great challenges in the past, and it's always risen to successfully address those challenges. It's time to do so again," the release quotes Walker saying. "Americans Elect is providing the American people with more choice and competition in connection with the nation's two highest offices. It offers an opportunity to break the partisan gridlock and to bring to life the first three words of the U.S. Constitution - 'We the people.'"
I wrote back in December that President Obama's advisors are unusually well-versed in Americans Elect's rules and procedures. "What's clear is they will be on the ballot in most states," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said at the time. "And that's just something we have to deal with."