In political campaigns, three or more doesn’t necessarily constitute a crowd.

Still, after every close election, political junkies and pundits play Monday morning quarterback. They wonder how much third-party candidates or less popular ones pulled from the front-runners.

They suggest these candidates can be “blamed” for a major candidate’s loss. For example, some blame Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, for diverting votes from Hillary Clinton, giving Donald Trump the win in 2016.

In Kansas, some questioned whether three teenagers running for governor robbed front-runners Kris Kobach and Jeff Colyer of votes. Others suggest candidates Jim Barnett and Ken Selzer swayed the outcome of the GOP primary, which Kobach won by a few hundred votes.

While entertaining, such conjecture seem to assume that two-person races are the norm.

Yet nothing in our Constitution states elections should be head-to-head contests.

The two major parties — Democrats and Republicans — are inventions of ambitious politicians, not built into the foundation of our republic.

Democrats trace their roots to the 1790s, when Thomas Jefferson helped organize opposition to federalists who served in President George Washington’s administration. Those federalists included Alexander Hamilton and John Adams.

Washington himself abhorred political parties. He had incorporated Jefferson’s faction (then known as Republicans) and Hamilton’s faction into his cabinet, hoping for cooperation and accommodation. It was an admirable but unsuccessful effort.

Republicans trace their roots to Abraham Lincoln and the anti-slavery movement. Lincoln had been a Whig but joined the Republican Party in 1856.

In their original form, Republicans were against slavery and in favor of infrastructure improvements, such as the trans-continental railroad.

The winner in 1856 was pro-slavery Democrat James Buchanan. A major third-party candidate in 1856 was Millard Fillmore, a former Whig president who was the nominee of the Know-Nothing Party, which primarily campaigned by fomenting fear and hatred of immigrants, Catholics and others.

By 1860, the nation was even more deeply divided, ripped apart by the issue of slavery, particularly the expansion of slavery into new states and territories.

The Democratic Party split in two, and four different candidates won electoral college votes in 1860. Lincoln won the White House with about 40 percent of the popular vote.

Historians consider him one of the greatest U.S. presidents.

There is nothing sacred, nothing “right” about two parties and two candidates vying to win an election.

So we should be wary of those who attempt to credit or blame the size of the field for the outcome. Undoubtedly, the dynamics of any race are shaped by the number of candidates, as well as by how liberal or conservative their policies are relative to one another. But that’s not some disturbing and rare occurrence. It’s our political system.

Let’s keep that in mind as we consider a gubernatorial ballot that likely will include not only a Republican and a Democrat, but also independents Rick Kloos and Greg Orman and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell.

That’s not to say that third-party or independent candidates should win votes because Kansans don’t like the Republican or Democratic nominees. Being fed up with the major parties isn’t sufficient reason to support any alternative.

Alternative candidates ought to receive the same scrutiny we give major party candidates.

And it’s worthwhile to note that, in the dynamics of this race, if Democrat Laura Kelly and Orman split the support of moderate voters, Kobach will find a smoother path to the governor’s office.

Voters who think character and policy matter more than partisan politics need to study up.

Which candidates have relevant experience, specific plans and constructive policies?

Do we agree with their proposals? Do they have proven managerial and leadership abilities? Are their campaigns transparent and accountable?

If they promise to cut taxes and spending, do they tell us specific dollar amounts, and specific programs and services that will be cut? If they want to increase spending, do they say where the money will go, and how they will raise the revenue?

We should judge alternative candidates no more kindly and no more harshly than major-party candidates.

The idea, however, that they are somehow spoilers in a race that rightfully belongs to Democrats or Republicans — that’s just unAmerican.

 

A native of Garden City, Julie Doll is a former journalist who has worked at newspapers in California, Indiana and New York, as well as across Kansas.