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Americans Elect launches centrist third-party bid amid Washington dysfunction

Americans Elect, which is inviting the public to a virtual primary, faces daunting hurdles. But dissatisfaction with the partisan gridlock in Washington creates a favorable political climate.

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The website for Americans Elect invites voters to locate and draft candidates online who agree with their views.

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With the dysfunction of Washington on full display as the nation inches toward defaulting on its debt, a coalition of American centrists has launched a bold gambit to nominate a third-party ticket for the 2012 presidential election.

Funded with at least $20 million, the majority from large, mostly unnamed donors, Americans Elect is vying to become the most serious third-party insurgency since industrialist H. Ross Perot nearly upended the 1992 presidential campaign.

And they're doing it in a decidedly 21st century way by creating an "open source" virtual primary in which the public is invited, via the Internet, to nominate a presidential ticket, ostensibly of moderates, and get the names on ballots in all 50 states.

Privately, political scientists say, some of the principals have debated a potential Gen. David Petraeus-Michael Bloomberg ticket as one possible outcome to challenge Obama-Biden and a potential Republican ticket such as Mitt Romney-Rick Perry. The group is also considering floating congressional candidates.

The effort is a new twist on a long tradition in American politics of third-party insurgencies, including Mr. Perot in 1992, John Anderson in 1980, and George Wallace in 1968.

The hurdles Americans Elect faces are daunting. While Perot garnered nearly 19 percent of the popular vote, none of the other recent third-party bids managed to collar more than 9 percent. [Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated the percentage of votes Perot received.]

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