Seventy-nine-year-old Joanne Clements, a retired teacher and a Democrat, has come to pick up a Curry campaign sign to put on her lawn. "Both parties suck," she tells me. "The parties aren't doing their jobs, they aren't listening to people. This is a ridiculous situation in Congress. I keep saying Ross [Perot], where are you now?"
Curry, who had served in the legislature for several terms as a Democrat before she decided to become an independent, wound up losing by only about 300 votes of some 30,000 cast in the election. She spent about 50,000 dollars on the campaign and says the Democratic Party and its supporters spent about a quarter of a million dollars -- more than any other Colorado House race in 2012 -- to beat her.
"I'm profoundly disappointed in the integrity of the system," she said. "Once they are elected, these officials owe everything to the parties and their supporters. I think there is a huge disconnect between the voters and the people who are getting elected."
Even as independent candidates continue to struggle, across the country the ranks of independent voters who think the parties care more about winning elections than about solving the nation's problems are swelling. Their number, along with their disaffection with the two-party political system, is growing exponentially. About 40 percent of all American voters now call themselves independents, a bigger group than those who say they are either Democrats or Republicans -- and the largest number of independent voters in 70 years. In some states, independents now are a majority of the voters.
Every election since World War II has been determined by voters in the middle. They elected Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The margin by which Obama carried the independent vote in crucial swing states around the country was one of the significant factors in his victory and will undoubtedly be critical to whether or not he is reelected.
The Republican victories in the 2010 midterm election were also decided by these voters. Independents supported Democrats by 18 points in 2006. But driven by their concern about the nation's economy and strong opposition to Democratic spending and health-care initiatives, they supported Republican congressional candidates in 2010 by the overwhelming margin of 56 to 38 percent, a 36-point swing from 2006.
But despite their critical role in general election outcomes, the independent voters have little to say about whom the parties select to run for office. In half the states in the country the primary process is closed to them. An electoral system that all Americans pay for with their tax dollars is run solely by and for the two major political parties. Which means the American electoral system is not fully democratic.
After the primaries are over, politicians need the independent voters to win and woo them with attention in November. But once they have their victory or -- to use the vernacular -- get what they want, independent voters are forgotten as quickly as a one-night stand. Democratic and Republican office holders are beholden to their base supporters, the special interests who donate time and money to them and the parties that control both candidate selection and the agenda.