Less than a week before its first online ballot, the US movement aiming to break the grip of the two major political parties on presidential politics is struggling to find a game-changing candidate for the November election.

Americans Elect, an eclectic group of prominent citizens and political activists disillusioned with Washington’s bitter partisan gridlock, has qualified for the ballot in 25 states and says it is on track to have all 50 done by the end of July.

But the pioneering group remains a movement in search of a standard bearer in the run-up to its opening online caucus on May 8, the first step in winnowing out potential candidates before a virtual convention in June.

“The biggest problem we are facing is to get a prominent candidate to think outside the traditional framework,” said Dennis Blair, a retired admiral and Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligence who is on the board of Americans Elect.

At a time of great volatility in US politics, the group held out great hope for its supporters as a body that could marshal support on the internet to force the presidential race into the open.

But Mr Blair echoes the private views of many supporters, who are underwhelmed by the candidates who have come forward so far.

Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor, would be an attractive candidate as a prominent public figure with the ability to cross party lines but is not interested in running, a spokesman said.

Another possibility, Jon Huntsman, a Republican who served as Mr Obama’s ambassador in China, has also shown no enthusiasm in being drafted despite his ill-fated run for the Republican nomination.

However, if the election is close, as both campaigns expect it will be, then even a relatively little-known candidate may be able to influence the outcome.

Leading the pack among declared candidates, with more than 4,220 online supporters, is Buddy Roemer, the 69-year-old former Louisiana governor who spent four decades in politics split almost evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties.

“If you see a debate between Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Buddy Roemer, I guarantee you will be transfixed,” he said.

Mr Roemer ran for the 2012 Republican nomination but gave up when his low ratings kept him out of the candidates’ debates.

He says he is now a trenchant critic of the two-party system. “The system is corrupt – with the two parties, you are either a hero or a fool or a good guy or a villain,” he said

Mr Roemer says he is “learning something every day” as he tries to raise the number of signatures required to qualify for the online ballot but his candidacy has had an underwhelming response.

“If you want a third candidate who can reach critical mass and be competitive, you need someone who is a bit of a celebrity, like Ross Perot,” said Michael Barone, of the American Enterprise Institute. “Buddy Roemer does not fit that description.”

The late Mr Perot, a self-made billionaire, transformed the 1992 election when he ran as a third candidate, coming from the right, in a poll won by Bill Clinton. Likewise, consumer activist Ralph Nader ran from the left in 2000, draining votes from Al Gore, who lost by a razor-thin margin to George W. Bush.

Mr Blair said he thought potential candidates were being put off running by veiled threats of retribution by the major parties and that Americans Elect might have to focus on drafting someone.

“Candidates we have spoken to are extremely, extremely concerned about being ostracised and fear they would never have a chance in either party should they run,” he said.

One potential candidate is David Walker, 62, a former comptroller general under both Democratic and Republican administrations, who has said he would consider running.

Get alerts on US politics & policy when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Follow the topics in this article