PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - In an online primary conducted by Oregon's Independent Party last month, party members chose "None of the above" instead of making a general election nomination in 13 state House races, one state Senate race and a congressional race.
The party, run by two Portland progressives, did find some candidates it liked. For example, Republican Art Robinson, a congressional candidate and a strict constitutionalist who rejects Darwinism, global warming and the health care reform bill received the nod.
Then the party members turned around and nominated for governor Oregon's most prominent champion of health care reform, Democrat John Kitzhaber.
The Independent Party, Oregon's newest and third-largest, has been the target of much skepticism. That was heightened by the scant and incoherent results of Oregon's first online primary - in which just 2,000 of the Independent Party's 54,000 registered members voted.
"What makes this peculiar is American parties historically formed around issues first," said Southern Oregon University political scientist Bill Hughes. "The Independent Party wants to win elections first. 'Oh and in the meantime, we'll figure out what our positions are."'
The low turnout could show the 5-year-old Independent Party headed for the minor-party heap in Oregon politics, joining the Pacific Greens, Libertarians and Working Families parties.
The Independents run on a shoestring budget, with little for get-out-the-vote efforts and no cash for candidates. Without a driving political ideology, the party doesn't even have a reliable base of supporters, as do other minor parties.
But the Independent Party does have three letters: the "Ind." that will be the ballot with any candidates who win its nomination.
Under Oregon's new "fusion" voting law, major-party candidates who also get the Independent Party nomination can have both party labels next their names on the November ballot.
Voters view "independent" candidates favorably, politicians figure, so the "Ind." on the ballot is an advantage, and potentially decisive in a close election.
Beyond the more than 50,000 people signed up as members of the Independent party, Oregon has more than 400,000 voters registered as members of no party - about 20 percent of all voters.
"That 'Ind.' is really all the Independent Party has going for it," said Jim Moore of Pacific University.
All but 4 of the 86 candidates who sought Indepdendent Party nomination were major-party candidates.
One was Republican legislator Scott Bruun who defeated Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader 237-211 to win the "Ind." in the race for the 5th Congressional District seat.
"(The ballot) is going to say, Kurt Schrader, Democrat, and Scott Bruun, Independent-Republican," Bruun said. "So I think there's value to that, there's tremendous value to that."
What ideology the party has is aimed mainly at changing the rules of Oregon's political process, most prominently to limit campaign contributions from big donors, corporations and unions.
The party's founders have also written favorably about one-chamber, or unicameral, legislatures and about redistricting to eliminate "safe" legislative districts where one party has an overwhelming advantage.
Party co-founders Dan Meek and Linda Williams discount the importance of party platforms.
There's no logical necessity, said Meek, for conservative religious voters to support business-first initiatives, or for socially liberal voters to support unions and higher taxes.
And, said Williams, the party is willing to "call a truce on divisive social issues."
"Why are the platforms of the existing major parties considered to be coherent?" Meek said. "They're not, really. They're just a conglomeration of different positions. Why can't you have folks who aren't forced into these straitjackets of pasted-together platforms?"
Recognizing the power of the "Ind.," though, they say they will keep score of the party's nominees, hoping that withholding the Independent Party's nomination is an effective deterrent for breaking with the party's agenda.
"We've tried different models," Williams said. "This is the one we're trying now. If it doesn't work because people are too fractious and can't get together in their own best interests on even the most fundamental aspects of good government, well, it won't be the first time we've failed at something."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)