In New York State, the right of a political party to cross-endorse another party's candidate is supposed to give independent parties some degree of influence over major-party candidates. In theory, once an independent party earns a spot on the state ballot through cross-endorsement, major-party pols are supposed to be impressed by how many people vote for them on the independent line. Since the cross-endorsing party remains theoretically independent, and thus capable of steering its voters away from a major party, the major-party pols should modify their platforms to make themselves more appealing to the third-party voters and thus maintain the cross-endorsement. Cross-endorsement by the Conservative party, for instance, should steer Republican candidates to the right, while cross-endorsement by the Working Families party should steer Democrats to the left.
In practice this year, the Conservative party endorsement, given preemptively before the Republican primary, has turned the primary campaign into a game of chicken, with a new party emerging to ensure that both leading aspirants for the GOP gubernatorial nomination will have third-party lines this fall, each potentially assuring the other's destruction in November. The Conservatives used their preemptive endorsement on behalf of the GOP establishment against an insurgent "outsider" who is, by most accounts, the more conservative of the two contenders. That decision may leave observers wondering how independent, or independent of what, the Conservatives really are.
Meanwhile, Democratic candidate Andrew Cuomo has held himself aloof from the Working Families party, which has nominated a placeholder candidate for the time being. It was believed that Cuomo kept his distance because of scandals surrounding the WFP. This week, however, Cuomo issued an ultimatum to Working Families during a radio interview. He will not accept a cross-endorsement from the WFP unless the party endorses his "New" Democratic platform. That platform would require Working Families to renounce its own tax-the-rich principles, since it commits Cuomo against raising income taxes and to capping future property-tax hikes. Cuomo doesn't really envision a cross-endorsement. He presumes a capitulation through which he would "head the party" by imposing his platform on the WFP. He has little to lose or gain from the ultimatum, while Working Families' coveted ballot line will be in jeopardy if they stick with the placeholder.
While I oppose the whole concept of state-assigned ballot lines that confer legitimacy on some parties and candidates while denying it to others, in this case I have to say that if Working Families can't hold its line with its own handpicked candidate, who would presumably represent the genuine party doctrine -- to the extent that it ever had one -- it doesn't deserve to keep the line. Cross-endorsement has always struck me as a dubious idea, and the endgame now playing out between Cuomo and the WFP only enhances my conviction. As practised by Working Families and the Conservatives, cross-endorsement is little more than lobbying with votes rather than money, conceding power to the major parties rather than challenging them. The practice was meant to influence major-party candidates, but with the WFP we now see the effect in reverse. It was probably the inevitable outcome of a strategy that sought to exploit the American Bipolarchy rather than replace it.