"Double your pleasure, double your fun" might be the mantra for Connecticut candidates looking to maximize their chances of sucking in votes this November.
It worked for Dannel Malloy two years ago when he doubled down on the ballot: once as a Democrat and once for the Working Families Party. In fact, without the 26,308 votes he got on the WFP line, Malloy might have lost that election to Republican Tom Foley.
Now both sides of Connecticut's hot U.S. Senate race are hoping for the same kind of ballot double-dipping. Democrat Chris Murphy is also getting the Working Families Party backing, and Republican Linda McMahon is working a similar scam, figuring to wind up on the both the GOP and Independent Party lines.
One official of Connecticut's Independent Party says he's looking at a wheelbarrow load of requests from state legislative candidates (most of them Republican) who want to get on that minor party's line in November in addition to their own party designation.
Political geeks call it "fusion," a sweet-sounding euphemism for cross-endorsement by two different parties, which allows a candidate to show up multiple times on a ballot as representing different political parties.
It makes lots of sense for the people running campaigns in this candidate-driven political system of ours. People who might not want to vote for you as a stinky old Democrat or slimy Republican might feel better if they could cast their ballot for you as some non-establishment-alternative-party rebel.
Connecticut is one of only seven states in the U.S. that allows cross-endorsements, and not all that do will let candidates appear multiple times on the ballot. Vermont is one of those that doesn't.
Some third-party activists think cross-endorsement is a political honey-hole that can make them big-time players with a way to influence candidates who want their election-time support.
By cross-endorsing a major party candidate, a third party theoretically avoids the road to oblivion that involves people refusing to back a minor party candidate because they don't want to "throw away their vote" on someone who can't possibly win.
While candidates are clearly trying to use third party's to score some extra votes, this political bargain isn't a one-way street.
Mike Telesca, one of the founders of Connecticut's Independent Party, believes cross-endorsing big-time candidates like McMahon can help his group expand and stay on the ballot.
McMahon, with some of the mega-bucks she made as the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, paid for people to collect enough voter signatures to help the Independent Party get on the U.S. Senate ballot in November. "She's the one who gave us that line," Telesca points out.
Assuming that McMahon pulls in 1 percent of the statewide vote on the Independent Party line in November, it insures the IP will automatically be on the ballot in the next U.S. Senate election.
"We don't know what kind of politician she'll turn out to be," Telesca admits. "I have no reason to believe she will be any worse in office than the politicians that are in there now… And I hope she will be independent."
The Connecticut Independent Party is currently involved in a leadership battle between Telesca, a Waterbury guy who believes the party should be non-partisan, and Robert Fand of Danbury. Telesca says Fand is pushing for lots of Republican candidates, while Fand has filed a court action challenging Telesca's party leadership.
Then there are minor party types, like Green Party co-chairman Mike DeRosa, who see cross-endorsements of Republican or Democratic candidates as sleeping with the enemy.
"My view personally... is that cross-endorsement leads not to fusion but to confusion," DeRosa argues. He calls the fusion system the "road to oblivion" for minor parties and says the Connecticut Greens' bylaws right now forbid cross-endorsement of candidates for statewide offices.
In DeRosa's view, the major parties and their candidates are now "trying to infiltrate" some minor parties to neutralize their effect on elections. He says minor parties risk "becoming secondary parties or 'me-too' parties" if all they ever do is cross-endorse with the Democrats or Republicans.
Republicans have long claimed that the Working Families Party is nothing more than a tool of Big Labor and little more than a flunky for the Democrats. WFP activists insist the reason they almost inevitably endorse only Democrats is that Republicans usually don't endorse what is good for working families.
State House Republican Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr. shakes his head in admiration at what he sees as the act of "political genius" that created the Working Families Party.
The WFP originated in New York in the late 1990s as an effort by liberals and unions to stop what they saw as the Democratic Party's slippage toward the right. From the beginning, both in New York and Connecticut, cross-endorsement was viewed as a major league political lever by WFP leaders.
"The WFP tells [candidates], 'We've got this political tool that can help you or hurt you, so you gotta play ball with us,'" is Cafero's view.
The idea is that the candidate can get the cross-endorsement if he or she agrees to support that particular third party's agenda. But if the candidate refuses, that third party could always run its own candidate in the race and steal votes away.
According to Cafero, he and other GOP types have been musing about the WFP and wondering "what we can do to counter that." He says one answer this year is for Republicans to try and jump on the Connecticut Independent Party line.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's top political advisor and one of the key Democratic operatives who helped Malloy win two years ago, sneers at claims the WFP is merely a Democratic subsidiary.
He admits that lots of Democrats are involved with the Working Families Party, and that Dems and WFPs often share the same liberal values. "But I don't see it as an adjunct of the Democratic Party," Occhiogrosso insists. "The WFP is real, it's not some fringe group."
According to Occhiogrosso, being on the WFP ballot line in 2010 "probably" helped Malloy but adds that most of the people who voted on that line would probably have voted on the Democratic line for Malloy if the WFP hadn't been around.
Occhiogrosso concedes that having too many third-party cross-endorsements on a ballot "gets to be a little bit silly… But we're not at that point in Connecticut yet."