Voter dissatisfaction with some top-tier presidential contenders and with extreme Republican and Democratic partisanship has spawned a Web-based movement to field a bipartisan ticket.
Discontent also has fueled speculation about a possible self-financed bid by billionaire New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
Chatter about a potential independent Bloomberg campaign picked up steam this week after maverick Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), who had a private dinner recently with Bloomberg, seemed to leave the door open Sunday to such a ticket.
"It's a great country to think about a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation," Hagel replied when asked on CBS News' "Face the Nation" whether he could see himself running as an independent with Bloomberg.
Bloomberg appeared to shoot down the idea Monday. "I think [Hagel] was probably joking," Bloomberg said, according to the Associated Press. "He speaks his mind.... He's not happy with the same things that I'm not happy about."
Such talk might come to nothing. But voter discontent that goes far beyond the Bush administration's unfavorable poll ratings could fuel a serious independent run for the White House.
"There are some conditions in place that make it seem more likely," said Barry C. Burden, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"One is the general sense of discontent in the electorate. It's partly the scandals and other issues that have plagued the Bush administration. The fact that the Iraq war doesn't have a resolution. The Democrats were swept into Congress, but they're not solving those kinds of things," Burden said.
A third party or independent candidate hasn't won the White House since the Abraham Lincoln-led Republicans supplanted the Whigs in 1860, Burden said. But there have been spoilers.
Theodore Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" candidacy split the Republican vote in 1912 and gave the White House to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. More recently, Ross Perot's Reform Party campaign helped derail President George H.W. Bush's 1992 reelection bid. And in 2000, Green Party candidate Ralph Nader siphoned votes from Vice President Al Gore in his whisker-thin loss to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
But running a serious independent campaign means getting on state ballots, and that takes time, people and organization.
Unity08.com, created in part by former political operatives for the 1976 Ford and Carter campaigns, thinks it has the answer. The group plans to hold an online national primary in June 2008 to select a bipartisan presidential ticket, and is laying plans to begin qualifying for the ballots this fall. Its main requirements: The presidential and vice presidential candidates not be from the same party.
Organizers hope the approach will draw centrists and soften the ideological extremes of presidential politics. The group's backers include Angus King, former independent governor of Maine; Hamilton Jordan, President Carter's chief of staff; and Doug Bailey, longtime Republican political consultant and a co-founder of the Hotline political news digest.
With 60,000 delegates already signed up online, Bailey anticipates 2 million or more delegates to the virtual convention -- many driven by whatever decisions are made in the major parties' early primaries and caucuses, which begin in January.
"We anticipate, frankly, at that point a lot of people will be very upset over the choices that were made, a lot of buyer's remorse," Bailey said. "The country confronts too many serious issues at the very time its political train has sort of left its tracks. You can't get anybody to work with anybody .... We can't afford four more years like that."