Salena Zito

The press refuses to cover most third-party candidates or, if it does, covers them in a highly negative way – as cranks or troublemakers – which does nothing for their public standing. It does so even though “the American public fully supports the option for a third-party choice,” said Kelley.

Howard Dean, a former Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont governor, likes the competitiveness and ideas that come from third parties. “But they should start on local levels, where they can really effect change in a very real way,” he said.

Dean readily admits the atmosphere is ripe now for political revolt: “America views Washington as being incredibly out of touch – especially the Middle Class.”

His advice for Barack Obama: Stay out of Washington and keep talking about jobs.

Democrat and retired Navy admiral Joe Sestak, a former eastern Pennsylvania congressman who shocked the Washington establishment by upsetting U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in 2010, says he initially considered running as an independent.

After months of consideration (and the Obama White House’s controversial request that he forego a primary challenge), Sestak decided to ran as a Democrat. He beat Specter but lost narrowly in the general election to Republican Pat Toomey.

Sestak thinks Obama initially had that populist Jacksonian spirit that attracts independents, Republicans and Democrats who will go for a third-party candidate.

“But he did not retain the breadth of the people’s support, because there was too much focus on Washington politics instead of using the heft of people behind him as the best influencer of needed policy changes,” he said.

One strategist for Democrats, who spends most of his time with Main Street voters beyond Washington’s beltway, thinks “2012 is a year for an outsider/independent. But it would have to be one who can self-finance while simultaneously having the appeal to attract motivated individuals that will get him or her on the ballot in all the key states.”

A tall – but not impossible – order to fill.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.