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5 Third-Party Candidates (And What They Did After They Lost)

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Ralph Nader and Bob Barr couldn't gain any electoral traction on Tuesday. But in honor of their campaigns, let's look back at some notable third-party candidates.

1. John B. Anderson, 1980: Doonesbury's Choice

For most of the century, third-party candidates attracted the disaffected fringe voter. John Anderson—until his 1980 run an unknown Republican congressman from Illinois—drew from the center.

Anderson began his career as a conservative, but gradually became a progressive on social issues and foreign policy. Anderson was the first Republican congressman to call for Richard Nixon's resignation. By 1980, after dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, he was enough of a maverick to declare an independent candidacy.

"He is running in what he has called a "˜crazy' year, one in which the Democrats and Republicans seem about to nominate candidates so unpopular that more than half the potential voters have been telling pollsters they wish there were another choice," Time magazine wrote that spring, referring to Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan.

Anderson made an appearance on Saturday Night Live and received the endorsement of cartoon character Mike Doonesbury. "He has become a cult figure on campuses and with show-biz liberals," Time wrote "That is the strangest irony of all, because Anderson is just about the reverse of a trendy personality."

Reagan won the presidency with just over half the popular vote. Anderson finished a distant third with 5,719,437 vote—or 7 percent of the popular vote—and then dropped out of sight.

He spent the following years as a visiting professor—Stanford University, University of Illinois College of Law, Brandeis, Bryn Mawr, Oregon State University, University of Massachusetts. He now is a visiting professor at the Shepard Broad Law Center at Nova Southeastern University. Anderson also is chairman of the Center for Voting and Democracy and was president of the World Federalist Association, which lobbied to strengthen the institutions of the United Nations and for the creation of an international criminal court.

2. George Wallace, 1968: The "Law & Order" Candidate

wallace-for-prez.jpgAfter being elected Governor of Alabama in 1962, in a speech written by a known Ku Klux Klansman, George Wallace famously declared, "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." The next year, the Democrat Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door to block two African-American students from enrolling at the University of Alabama.

By 1968, the country was deeply divided over the Vietnam War, and reeling from anti-war protests and race riots. Much of the country wanted a president who would restore "law and order." Running against former Vice President Richard Nixon (Republican) and sitting VP Hubert Humphrey (Democrat), the bulldog Wallace tapped into a deep well of white disaffection in the North as well as the South. Macho movie star John Wayne reportedly inscribed a check to Wallace with the words, "Sock it to 'em, George."

Nixon won the election, but Wallace received 9,906,473 votes—5.53 percent of the popular vote—and overwhelming majorities in Alabama and Mississippi. He took 46 electoral votes.

Alabama reelected Wallace governor in 1970. In 1972, he began a strong run for the Democratic presidential nomination, campaigning against school busing. The day before he won the Michigan and Maryland primaries, Wallace was shot and paralyzed while stumping at a shopping center in Laurel, Maryland.

The assassination attempt ended Wallace's campaign. He was reelected Alabama governor in 1974 and the next year announced another bid for the presidency. But another Southern governor, Jimmy Carter, drew Wallace's regional support and he dropped out of the race.

george-wallace.jpgWallace was barred by law from seeking a third consecutive term as governor. In 1978, he was divorced from his second wife. (His first wife had succeeded him as governor in 1966 and died of cancer in 1968. A third marriage ended in divorce in 1987.)

Time effected a change on the old segregationist. In 1979, he contacted civil rights leader John Lewis—who was severely beaten by Wallace's state troopers during a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965—and a number of other African Americans to ask their forgiveness for his past actions. He returned to the governor's office in 1982, on the strength of Alabama's majority black vote. And in a speech to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, he confessed that his opposition to school integration was wrong.

Wallace retired at the end of his term in January 1987 and died in 1998, at age 79.

3. Eugene Debs, 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1920: The 5 Timers Club

Debs.jpgEugene Debs had been a railway union organizer in the 1890s. While in prison for his union activities, he read the works of Karl Marx for the first time. In 1905 he helped found the Industrial Workers of the World, which became known as the Wobblies.

In the 1912 election—Debs' fourth campaign for the presidency—Debs won 901,551 votes, just short of 6 percent of the popular vote, but a distant fourth behind Taft. Debs finished third in his 1920 run, with 913,693 votes—3.41 percent of the popular vote. That isn't bad, considering the Socialist leader was in prison at the time.

An opponent of America's participation in World War I—he saw it as a boon to capitalists—Debs had been jailed in 1918 for making a speech against the war. He was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it a crime to interfere with the war effort.

He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and his citizenship was revoked. Debs appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the conviction. In his majority opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. declared free speech does not include "the right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theater."

In 1921, President Warren Harding commuted Debs' sentence to time served. Some 50,000 followers welcomed him home on his release. He died of heart failure in 1926, at age 70. His citizenship was restored posthumously in 1976.

4. Norman Thomas, 1928, 1932, 1936, 1940, 1944, 1948: The Losingest Candidate

norm-thomas.jpgSocialist Norman Thomas was perhaps America's losingest third-party candidate, but he lived long enough to become an American institution. Of his six consecutive runs for president, his best showing was in 1932, when he received 884,781 votes.

He was the Socialist successor to Eugene Debs, but unlike Debs, Thomas did not have a working-class background. He began his career as a clergyman, the son and grandson of clergymen.

Today he probably would be called a social democrat, and his radical platform—low-cost housing, the five-day work week, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, minimum-wage laws and the prohibition of child labor—were absorbed into President Roosevelt's New Deal.

Thomas was neither a Marxist (Leon Trotsky quipped, "Norman Thomas called himself a socialist as a result of a misunderstanding") nor was he satisfied with the two major parties. (Anticipating Nader, he called it the "Tweedledee and Tweedledum" choice.) He opposed America's entry into World War II, protested the internment of Japanese Americans during the war, and denounced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the war's end.

After his final presidential run in 1948, Thomas maintained his membership in the Socialist Party. "I enjoy sitting on the sidelines and Monday-morning quarterbacking on other people's performances," he said. He wrote several books in the 1950s and "˜60s and pursued efforts toward international peace. On his 80th birthday, in 1964, he received a check for $17,500, "raised by the dwindling Socialist faithful," Time reported. "Thomas said he would divvy up the money among his favorite left-wing causes: "˜It won't last long, because every organization I'm connected with is going bankrupt.'" He died in December 1968, at age 84.

5. H. Ross Perot, 1992, 1996: He Had $3 Billion Sitting Back Home

Perot.jpgIf Washington were the problem, and if politicians lacked the mettle to lead, the solution had to come from a straight-talking political outsider who had proved his leadership qualities by running a successful corporation and making himself wealthy in the process.

In 1992, 19,742,267 Americans agreed that man was Texas data processing tycoon Henry Ross Perot, who focused his campaign on trade and campaign finance reform. America's industrial base was shrinking quickly, and Perot warned of "a giant sucking sound" of American jobs moving south to Mexico if the North American Free Trade Agreement were enacted.

The 19 percent of the popular vote the Texas billionaire received was enough to deny reelection to Republican President George H.W. Bush and send Democrat Bill Clinton to the White House.

How'd Perot make his fortune? He began his business career as an IBM salesman, founded Electronic Data Systems in 1962, and sold the company to General Motors in 1984 for $2.5 billion. He resigned as EDS chairman in 1986 and founded the competing Perot Systems two years later.

perot.jpgBuoyed by his strong showing in 1992, Perot established the Reform Party in 1995 to institutionalize a platform calling for balancing the federal budget, overhauling the health-care and income-tax systems, and placing restrictions on lobbying.

As the party's 1996 nominee for president, Perot received 8,085,402 votes, or 8 percent of the popular vote. In 2000, Perot declined to run again and worked to undermine conservative pundit Patrick Buchanan's candidacy on the Reform ticket. In the general election, Buchanan took 0.4 percent of the popular vote and dealt the Reform party a death blow.

At 79, Perot remains chairman emeritus and a board member of Perot Systems. His pet cause is securing special medical care for injured members of the U.S. military. He also heads the Hillwood real estate firm in Dallas, owns the money management firm Perot Investment, and is principal investor in the intellectual property fund IP Advantage. He is the author of seven books and, according to the Perot Systems website, was named by as one of "History's Ten Greatest Entrepreneurs" of the last 1,500 years.

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There have been many more notable third-party candidates, including Teddy Roosevelt (in 1912), Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, "Fighting Bob" La Follette, James Birney, Henry Wallace and Strom Thurmond. We'll save those stories for 2012.

David Holzel has a thing for presidents. He is editor of the Franklin Pierce Pages.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
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Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios
"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole
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40 Fun Facts About Sesame Street
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Now in its 47th season, Sesame Street is one of television's most iconic programs—and it's not just for kids. We're big fans of the Street, and to prove it, here are some of our favorite Sesame facts from previous stories and our Amazing Fact Generator.

Sesame Workshop

1. Oscar the Grouch used to be orange. Jim Henson decided to make him green before season two.

2. How did Oscar explain the color change? He said he went on vacation to the very damp Swamp Mushy Muddy and turned green overnight.

3. During a 2004 episode, Cookie Monster said that before he started eating cookies, his name was Sid.

4. In 1980, C-3PO and R2-D2 visited Sesame Street. They played games, sang songs, and R2-D2 fell in love with a fire hydrant.

5. Mr. Snuffleupagus has a first name—Aloysius

6. Ralph Nader stopped by in 1988 and sang "a consumer advocate is a person in your neighborhood."

7. Caroll Spinney said he based Oscar's voice on a cab driver from the Bronx who brought him to the audition.

8. In 1970, Ernie reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 with the timeless hit "Rubber Duckie."

9. One of Count von Count's lady friends is Countess von Backwards, who's also obsessed with counting but likes to do it backwards.

10. Sesame Street made its Afghanistan debut in 2011 with Baghch-e-Simsim (Sesame Garden). Big Bird, Grover and Elmo are involved.

11. According to Muppet Wiki, Oscar the Grouch and Count von Count were minimized on Baghch-e-Simsim "due to cultural taboos against trash and vampirism."

12. Before Giancarlo Esposito was Breaking Bad's super intense Gus Fring, he played Big Bird's camp counselor Mickey in 1982.

13. Thankfully, those episodes are available on YouTube.

14. How big is Big Bird? 8'2". (Pictured with First Lady Pat Nixon.)

15. In 2002, the South African version (Takalani Sesame) added an HIV-positive Muppet named Kami.

16. Six Republicans on the House Commerce Committee wrote a letter to PBS president Pat Mitchell warning that Kami was not appropriate for American children, and reminded Mitchell that their committee controlled PBS' funding.

17. Sesame Street's resident game show host Guy Smiley was using a pseudonym. His real name was Bernie Liederkrantz.

18. Bert and Ernie have been getting questioned about their sexuality for years. Ernie himself, as performed by Steve Whitmere, has weighed in: “All that stuff about me and Bert? It’s not true. We’re both very happy, but we’re not gay,”

19. A few years later, Bert (as performed by Eric Jacobson) answered the same question by saying, “No, no. In fact, sometimes we are not even friends; he can be a pain in the neck.”

20. In the first season, both Superman and Batman appeared in short cartoons produced by Filmation. In one clip, Batman told Bert and Ernie to stop arguing and take turns choosing what’s on TV.

21. In another segment, Superman battled a giant chimp.

22. Telly was originally "Television Monster," a TV-obsessed Muppet whose eyes whirled around as he watched.

23. According to Sesame Workshop, Elmo is the only non-human to testify before Congress.

24. He lobbied for more funding for music education, so that "when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play."

25. In the early 1990s, soon after Jim Henson’s passing, a rumor circulated that Ernie would be killed off in order to teach children about death, as they'd done with Mr. Hooper.

26. According to Snopes, the rumor may have spread thanks to New Hampshire college student, Michael Tabor, who convinced his graduating class to wear “Save Ernie” beanies and sign a petition to persuade Sesame Workshop to let Ernie live.

27. By the time Tabor was corrected, the newspapers had already picked up the story.

28. Sesame Street’s Executive Producer Carol-Lynn Parente joined Sesame Workshop as a production assistant and has worked her way to the top.

29. Originally, Count von Count was more sinister. He could hypnotize and stun people.

30. According to Sesame Workshop, all Sesame Street's main Muppets have four fingers except Cookie Monster, who has five.

31. The episode with Mr. Hooper's funeral aired on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. That date was chosen because families were more likely to be together at that time, in case kids had questions or needed emotional support.

32. Mr. Hooper’s first name was Harold.

33. Big Bird sang "Bein' Green" at Jim Henson's memorial service.

34. As Chris Higgins put it, the performance was "devastating."

35. Oscar's Israeli counterpart is Moishe Oofnik, whose last name means “grouch” in Hebrew.

36. Nigeria's version of Cookie Monster eats yams. His catchphrase: "ME WANT YAM!"

37. Sesame's Roosevelt Franklin ran a school, where he spoke in scat and taught about Africa. Some parents hated him, so in 1975 he got the boot, only to inspire Gob Bluth’s racist puppet Franklin on Arrested Development 28 years later.

38. Our good friend and contributor Eddie Deezen was the voice of Donnie Dodo in the 1985 classic Follow That Bird.

39. Cookie Monster evolved from The Wheel-Stealer—a snack-pilfering puppet Jim Henson created to promote Wheels, Crowns and Flutes in the 1960s.

40. This puppet later was seen eating a computer in an IBM training film and on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Thanks to Stacy Conradt, Joe Hennes, Drew Toal, and Chris Higgins for their previous Sesame coverage!

An earlier version of this article appeared in 2012.


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