Let Independents Be Independent

It’s ludicrous to make two Senate hopefuls declare their party leanings
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman in Topeka, Kan., on Sept. 17 Photograph by Chris Neal/The Capital Journal via AP Photo

When a candidate for political office refuses to be pinned down on a question of consequence, it’s usually cause for suspicion. But not always. Which is in part what makes the campaigns of Greg Orman and Larry Pressler so interesting.

Both are running as independents for U.S. Senate: Orman in Kansas, Pressler in South Dakota. Both refuse to say which party they will caucus with if elected. Both are justified in doing so.

Their critics charge that voters deserve to know which team they will play for. Others claim that their studied independence is either a ruse or a sign of naiveté. Voters can assess for themselves the candidates’ honesty and intelligence. But the demand that they declare an allegiance is nonsensical. Voters who don’t want an official to act independently shouldn’t vote for an independent.

Pressler served three terms in the Senate as a Republican but voted twice for Barack Obama for president. He has staked out traditionally Democratic positions on some issues (same-sex marriage, Obamacare, and expanded background checks for gun buyers) and Republican positions on others (tort reform and cutting federal spending). Orman, a centrist businessman, leans Democratic but has avoided taking firm positions on many issues.

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Larry Pressler in Sioux Falls, S.D., on July 8
Photograph by Dirk Lammers/AP Photo

Republicans charge that both Orman and Pressler are certain to caucus with the Democrats. But if the GOP wins control of the Senate, both may join the majority to enjoy greater influence over budgets and legislation. Angus King, an independent senator from Maine, caucuses with the Democrats for exactly that reason (and has reserved the right to switch parties if the Senate changes hands).

If the election leaves either party needing help from the independents to form a majority, King—and Orman and Pressler, if they win—would be in a position to negotiate plum assignments. If they act as a bloc, their power would be that much greater.

Orman and Pressler have nothing to gain and everything to lose by announcing a party affiliation now. Doing so would undermine part of their campaigns’ raison d’être: rejecting the partisan war in Washington.

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