Whitman taking new tack in her effort to save moderate politics

Christine Todd Whitman , former N.J. governor, has joined Americans Elect in her drive to save moderate politics.
Christine Todd Whitman , former N.J. governor, has joined Americans Elect in her drive to save moderate politics. (SUSAN WALSH / Associated Press)
Posted: December 12, 2011

Six years ago, Christine Todd Whitman, the former New Jersey governor and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief, wrote It's My Party Too, a book that lamented the Republican Party's move toward what she called far-right "social fundamentalists."

More recently, Whitman, 65, has taken a new line of attack in her crusade to save moderate politics: She's joined Americans Elect, a group that aims to nominate its own presidential candidate in 2012 by online voting, bypassing the primary process.

The group has raised $20 million, plans to pick its nominee in June, and aims to get on the ballot in all 50 states. Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, a Republican, has said he would run if the organization chooses him. To encourage bipartisanship, Americans Elect says its nominee must choose a running mate of a different party.

Staff writer Joelle Farrell caught up with Whitman last week. Excerpts of their conversation follow.

Question: You've been out of the limelight for a while. What are you doing these days?

Whitman: I have a management consulting business and we work on energy and environmental issues. I've been doing a lot of speaking. I've been doing the Republican Leadership Council [which supports fiscally conservative, socially moderate candidates] for a while.

Q: How do you think the Republican Party has changed since 2005, when your book came out?

Whitman: Most of the things about which I was concerned in the book I think are continuing to happen. . . . I think we are compromising our ability to be effective the more we develop these litmus tests and these pledges we have to sign, and it concerns me. It concerns me for the future of the country.

Q. What about the Democrats? 

Whitman: I think they're doing the same thing. I was in Washington a month or so ago and was talking to members of the Blue Dog Coalition, and they said they're starting to feel that they don't have a home in the party. You see the same thing happening on both sides of the aisle. . . . You end up with people who can't find consensus.

Q. What are your thoughts on the GOP presidential field?

Whitman: It looks now as if it's getting down to Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich. Newt's a very bright person and he certainly engages on the issues. He has a lot of baggage. . . . While people don't dislike Romney, they're not thrilled with him. That's one of the reasons I joined Americans Elect.

Q. What about Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain, though he's now dropped out? What do you think of their candidacies?

Whitman: Can't we do better? I mean, they've clearly worked very hard, but they have not resonated with the public, and again, when you're going through the primary season, they're appealing to a small number of people on the fringe. If someone like a Michele Bachmann gets the presidential nomination, she would not be able to win the election.

Q. Are moderates ever coming back? 

Whitman: I think Americans Elect is a way to have that happen - when you give people the opportunity to take part in that first part of the process, in choosing a candidate. There are 28 states where independent voters can't vote in primaries. It's that small 10 percent of people who tend to be hyperpartisan who get [to vote in primaries]. . . . The average American is not on the fringe. They understand gray areas.

Q. You've said you like former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Do you think he could be the Americans Elect nominee?

Whitman: To me he's the type of candidate that would appeal to them. If you go on the website and look at the issues people are talking about, they're not into the social issues, they're into the economy. They tend to believe that climate change is real and scientists have something to say. . . . [He] is in this race right now for the Republican nomination, but if that's not something that happens, I think he is someone who would have an appeal.

Q: Tell me more about Americans Elect and why you joined.

Whitman: I've done enough speaking around the country. I hear Democrats who are unhappy with the president and the rest of them. You look at poll numbers, and they tell you that they're unhappy with the president, they're unhappy with Congress. And part of the reason is the hyperpartisanship.


[We support] opening up the process - not to be a third party, but allowing people to take part in the most important part of the process, when a candidate is chosen.


 


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 856-779-3237, joellefarrell@phillynews.com, or @joellefarrell on Twitter.

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