Former Sen. Mike Gravel, who has been a candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, announced yesterday that he is leaving the Democratic Party and joining the Libertarian Party.
Gravel, who was a Senator from Alaska from 1969 to 1981, had gotten some attention from Democratic voters, but not much support for his populist views. Gravel favors establishing a national referendum process for enacting laws at the federal level; he also favors elimination of the federal income tax, favoring establishment of a national sales tax called the "Fair Tax."
TER interviewed Sen. Gravel in a 90 minute session in December 2006. This interview, which was presented in two parts along with an analysis, covered a wide range of the Senator's views. I felt at the time that given Sen. Gravel's distinguished record of service in the United States Senate, he was owed a respectful and attentive airing of his views (even though those views were far from my own). I described those views as constituting a "radical populist agenda." I thought there was some chance that he might catch on as an outsider candidate - somewhat like Ronald Reagan in the run-up to the 1980 presidential election. I thought that, like Reagan, Gravel is an affable and capable politician who could couch radical views in an unthreatening way.
As it turned out, Gravel came across in Democratic debates during 2007 as angry and somewhat bizarre. My feeling is that had the economic turndown started some months earlier, and if Gravel had been more Reaganesque in his approach, he might have gained more traction with primary voters. He was very unlikely to be a contender for the Democratic nomination, but he might have won some delegates and - given where Senators Clinton and Obama stand - might have been able to have influence on the Democratic agenda.
Now, Mike Gravel turns to the Libertarian Party. He intends to seek that party's nomination for President. It is not clear how much success he will have given that a number of Libertarian Party activists are already seeking that nomination. Even if Gravel does win the Libertarian nomination, the Libertarian nominee for President has gotten more than one percent of the popular vote in only one election: 1980, when Ed Clark got 1.06% of the vote. It is hard to think that Gravel will do even that well.