Three weeks ago, a poll by the Democratic Public Policy Polling firm showed Wisconsin governor Scott Walker leading his Democratic recall election opponent, Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, by a familiar five-point margin. The poll showed 50 percent of respondents favored Walker, 45 percent favored Barrett, and 3 percent were undecided.
The remaining 2 percent resided with Hariprasad Trivedi, an accomplished kidney specialist who lives in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield with his wife and three sons. Trivedi, an independent candidate, first introduced himself to the Wisconsin public when he bought a 30-second ad during the 2012 Super Bowl; the awkward ad featured Trivedi pausing while asking viewers to read jobs-related bullet points, then returning and saying “check for yourself!” in his thick Indian accent. At first glance, the ad seems as if it could be a “Borat”-style joke being played on the public. (Showing he is a novice, Trivedi ends the ad with an “I approve this message” disclaimer, which isn’t necessary on advertisements for state office.)
Most polls have Scott Walker up by around five percentage points. But if the margin shrinks on election day today, Trivedi’s candidacy might not be so funny. The polls that exclude Trivedi, even the most recent one from PPP, generally show Barrett closer to Walker.
That is because, according to PPP’s poll analyst, Trivedi’s 2 percent came mostly from voters that would normally support Tom Barrett. “Very few voters are supporting independent Hari Trivedi, but among those who are, their second choice is overwhelmingly Barrett, suggesting that Trivedi is pulling votes away from the Democrat,” the analyst said. “In a tight race, that could be a difference-maker.” Thus, if today’s election becomes a 1 or 2 percent contest, it could be Trivedi that determines the winner.
#more#In a series of videos on his website, Trivedi lays out his wide array of positions on state governance. Most notably, he supports reinstatement of public-sector collective bargaining, which could be why some of Tom Barrett’s supporters have migrated to him. Barrett wasn’t labor’s first pick, as he famously used Scott Walker’s union reforms to balance the city of Milwaukee budget; it is possible that the most strident union loyalists back Trivedi as a form of protest. (On his website, Trivedi also stakes out the controversial position that the 15–1 Green Bay Packers should have lost more games earlier in the season last year, so there wouldn’t have been so much pressure in the playoffs.)
Wisconsin has a colorful tradition of third-party candidates. In 1974, flamboyant West Milwaukee used-car dealer James Groh legally changed his name to “Crazy Jim” to run for governor as an independent. Crazy Jim was a staunch advocate of legalized gambling and frequently spun a tale of how he once played cards with Frank Sinatra in Las Vegas. Crazy Jim died in 2002 of a heart attack.
In Madison, self-described “futurist” Richard H. Anderson has run for numerous offices, including state assembly, mayor, and city council. Anderson routinely ran on an “anti-mind control” platform, believing the government had planted a cybernetic chip in his brain. A self-described bisexual, Anderson fought for better treatment of minorities and, as a surprise to exactly no one, for legalized marijuana. “Just because I’m a pot-head doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to hold office,” he once said. Unfortunately, the government rarely used mind control to direct voters to vote for him, as he once mustered a scant six votes in a race for the state assembly against now–U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin.
(One has to wonder what a debate between a “pro-mind control” and “anti-mind control” candidate is like. Presumably, the “anti” candidate would get up to speak, the “pro” candidate would glare and point his finger at him, and the “anti” candidate would sheepishly sit back down without saying a word.)
In 2002, the Wisconsin gubernatorial race featured 34-year-old Aneb Jah Rasta Sensas-Utcha Nefer-I, who insisted that he was already governor of Wisconsin. “I was born to rule, because God’s judgment will judge all unrighteousness,” said Sensas-Utcha, a native of Milwaukee. “I’m the damn governor of the State of Wisconsin.” To back up this claim, Sensas-Utcha pointed to several bills regarding E. coli that he had passed earlier. Unfortunately, he was unable to describe the details of this important legislation, claiming the press might be able to use it against him. Despite his previous hypothetical electoral success, Sensas-Utcha was only able to muster 929 votes statewide that November.
Sensas-Utcha was joined as a third-party gubernatorial candidate in 2002 by Mike Mangan, who campaigned wearing a gorilla suit. Mangan, a self-employed energy consultant from Waukesha, waged what he called a “guerilla attack against state spending.” Mangan criticized the state’s “King Kong deficit,” which was quite a coincidence since he happened to own a gorilla mask. (Fortunately for Mangan, the deficit wasn’t the size of a turtle, as he would have had to scramble for a new costume.)
But Trivedi isn’t ready to be relegated to the scrap heap of former electoral freak shows. “I intend to win. It’s as simple as that,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in February. In the final days leading up to the election, Trivedi spent $15,200 to air an ad 57 times; the ad, which Trivedi calls “Stuck in a Rut,” features the candidate talking over a loud bird chirping, while a song plays in the background that sounds as if it could be someone’s cell phone going off.
Chances are, after election day, Trivedi will disappear from the public stage, as most independent candidates do. But if the race is as close as Tom Barrett hopes it is, Trivedi won’t exit without leaving a mark.
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute and writes the Yankee Review.