February 11th, 2008
03:35 PM ET

The 2008 Must-Have Voter: Independents

Remember “Soccer Moms”? What about “Nascar Dads”? Or how about “Reagan Democrats” or “Security Moms”?

Every presidential election there is a new group of voters who candidates, the media and we pundits anoint the “must-have” voter for any candidate hoping to make it to the White House.

If you were to compare presidential politics to the equally fickle field of fashion (bear with me—I am going somewhere with this), a candidate’s traditional base, whether it’s unions for Democratic candidates or evangelicals for Republicans, might be it’s little black dress (so to speak): The fashion staple that they will always need to anchor the rest of their wardrobe and is supposed to never go out of style. But every couple of years a new “must-have” trend or accessory comes along that may not seem to fit in with the rest of the closet, but certainly livens things up while hanging there. Eventually though, like MC Hammer pants or jelly sandals (remember those?) one trend goes out of style, replaced by another “must-have”

This election cycle, Independent voters have emerged as one of the “must-have” accessories for any candidate planning a walk down the general election runway. The rise in the number of voters registering as Independents is not limited to one particular racial or ethnic group, which is part of what makes the growing Independent voter movement so interesting and potentially powerful.

In Senators John McCain and Barack Obama you would be hard-pressed to find two candidates who have so little in common. One is a Democrat. One is a Republican. One is older. One is younger. One is black. One is white. One has been in the Senate for two decades. One is in his first term. One opposes the War in Iraq. One does not. One exudes heroism, while the other exudes hope. And yet somehow, some way these two completely different candidates have both sparked the interest and support of Independent voters, whose ability to influence elections has grown increasingly over the years.

In the next couple of weeks as the race for delegates continues on the Democratic side and the race for reconciliation between evangelicals and McCain continues on the Republican side, the million dollar question will be which party will be able to find a balance between the staples in their closets, and this new must-have accessory whose votes both parties will need to secure if they want to win in November.

– Kelli Goff, Political Commentator


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