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But are they really? The parties may skirmish over manufactured controversies, and both candidates are vague on some key points. But Romney has a tax plan and a Medicare strategy, and Obama talks about infrastructure and taxing the rich. "You can't accurately say the two parties aren't talking about the debt or deficit or jobs or the economy," says Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who advises a pro-Obama super PAC. "I haven't the slightest idea what someone from Americans Elect would do."
Had the GOP primaries ended differently, Americans Elect might have taken off. A year ago it did not seem totally implausible that, say, Michele Bachmann would win the GOP nomination, leaving a wide gap between Tea Party absolutism and Obama's center-left pragmatism. Instead, Republicans wound up with a center-right pragmatist in Romney. There's not a burning sense that the political center lacks a voice.
Still, you can't write off a well-funded outfit with national ballot access. Especially when the public is in an angry mood. Americans Elect's pollster, Doug Schoen, notes that the group's rules don't require a nomination until June. "If you can help us find a candidate," he says, "I'd be thrilled."