While the eyes of the nation are trained on the big stages in Cleveland and Philadelphia over the next two weeks, one ultra-longshot candidate for president will be walking a long, lonely road from Clemson to Charleston to try to draw attention to his message that the two-party system has become hopelessly toxic.
As he trudges 240 miles in the July heat down U.S. 178 through such towns as Donalds and Pelion and past mile after mile of pine plantations, Clemson professor Peter Skewes knows he doesn’t have a Pennsylvania Avenue address in his future.
But as the standard bearer for the American Party of South Carolina, he hopes to tap into the discontent that has driven the election season this year, on both sides of the political spectrum, to fuel a viable third party that would walk the middle route.
A party based on the concept of “Governing from the center by putting the common good above partisanship.” And with the recognition that, “Solving problems is more important than party loyalty.”
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“Pretty much their entire focus is on fixing the government process," Skewes said of the American Party. "Term limits, transparency, voter recall on bad politicians. I would add elimination of superpacs, superdelegates, the electoral college — get it back to one person one vote.
"Simplify government, make it effective and efficient again and bridge the gap between the two parties"
His own discontent sparked his campaign.
“Something had to change,” Skewes said, reflecting on his reasons for running during a roadside phone interview somewhere about eight miles north of Greenwood.
“The two historical parties were not doing a very good job, and I came to realize that a third party is probably the only likely solution.”
In a year when many Republicans don’t like Donald Trump, and many Democrats don’t care for Hillary Clinton, Skewes believes a significant chunk of votes could go toward a party in the middle. Especially considering that many voters believe it’s already “a done deal” that South Carolina’s electoral votes will end up in the GOP column regardless of how they vote, he said.
The American Party of South Carolina was established two years ago by a Democrat — former state Superintendent of Education Jim Rex — and a Republican — physician Oscar Lovelace, who challenged Mark Sanford in the 2006 GOP primary.
It took signatures of 16,000 registered voters to get the party certified, and in the 2014 midterm elections, its candidates claimed more than 153,000 votes, according to Skewes’ website.
Skewes filed to run for president before joining the American Party.
“I was listening to the candidates back in the fall when there were still 20 of them, and I was listening to all that was going on and one day on my way home from work it kind of struck me: I said for the first time in my life I’m not going to be able to vote for the president with a clear conscience, regardless of which of these candidates gets nominated.”
So he started thinking, “kind of half-heartedly” about running himself.
“Within a day or two I had filed with the Election Commission,” he recalled. “And then I found the American Party, and their platform and my platform aligned very well.”
He won the party’s nomination in a three-candidate race at its convention in May.
Although the party is organized only in South Carolina, its leaders envision it becoming a national party. A group in Georgia is working to establish it there, and Louisiana is likely next, Skewes said.
“I think we could be the model that changes the way we do politics,” he said.
The party mostly stays away from divisive social issues and focuses on making government better, the animal and veterinary science professor said.
“Most of those social issues are important but they’re not going to make or break our country,” he said. “I think we have to have a functional government and a byproduct of that would be a stable economy and stable families, and the country should do better.”
He said he’d consider it a success to come in third place in the state presidential vote.
Parties have until Aug. 15 to place their candidates on the ballot, according to the state Election Commission, but in 2012, the Libertarian, Constitution and Green parties fielded candidates in addition to the Republicans and Democrats.
Clemson political scientist David Woodard said he thinks Skewes is correct that there’s an abundance of discontent among South Carolina’s electorate this year.
But he doubts that will result in a mass exodus to a third party.
“There’s certainly a lot of evidence this year for discontent,” he said. “But I have found down through the years that as we get closer to the election day, no matter how unpopular the candidates are or how tough the race, people still take their voting pretty seriously.
“They may have to hold their nose or something like that, but they’ll still vote usually for the major parties simply because they know that giving it to somebody else is usually pointless.”