In politics, an independent is a politician who is not affiliated with any political party. In countries with a two-party system, independents may hold a centrist viewpoint between the two parties, they may hold an extremist viewpoint that goes beyond that of either major parties, or they may have a viewpoint based on issues that they don't feel either party addresses.
Recent prominent independent candidates for President of the United States include John Anderson in 1980, Ross Perot in 1992 and Ralph Nader in 2004 and 2008. None of them were successful. Historically, George Washington was the first and only elected independent President, as he was not formally affiliated with any party during his two terms.
John Tyler was expelled from the Whig Party in September 1841, and remained effectively an independent for the remainder of his presidency, later becoming a Democrat. He briefly sought re-election in 1844 as a National Democrat, but withdrew as he feared to split the Democrat vote.
Maine, Oregon and Texas are the only states in American history that have elected formally independent candidates as governor: James B. Longley in 1974 and Angus King in 1994 and 1998 from Maine, Julius Meier in 1930 from Oregon, and Sam Houston in 1859 from Texas. Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. is sometimes mentioned as an independent governor, though this is not technically correct; he ran as A Connecticut Party candidate (which gave him better ballot placement than an unaffiliated candidate would receive), defeating the Democratic and Republican party nominees. Another former governor who is sometimes mentioned as an independent is Jesse Ventura, who actually ran as a member of the Independence Party of Minnesota.
There have been several independents elected to the United States Senate throughout history. Notable examples include David Davis of Illinois (a former Republican) in the nineteenth century, and Harry F. Byrd, Jr. of Virginia (who had been elected to his first term as a Democrat) in the twentieth century. Some officials have been elected as members of a party but became independent while in office (without being elected as such), such as Wayne Morse of Oregon or Virgil Goode of Virginia. Vermont senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party to become an independent in 2001. Jeffords's change of party status was especially significant because it shifted the Senate composition from 50-50 between the Republicans and Democrats (with a Republican Vice President, Dick Cheney, who would break all ties in favor of the Republicans), to 49 Republicans, 50 Democrats, and one Independent. Jeffords agreed to vote for Democratic control of the Senate in exchange for being appointed chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and the Democrats held control of the Senate until the Congressional elections in 2002, when the Republicans regained their majority. Senator Jeffords retired at the end of his term in 2007. Wayne Morse after two years as an independent became Democrat, while Goode switched to Republican.
Representative Bernie Sanders was an independent member of the United States House of Representatives for Vermont-at-large from 1991 to 2006. Bernie later won the open Senate seat of Jim Jeffords, as an independent. Joe Lieberman a former Democrat who ran like Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. under a third party (Connecticut for Lieberman Party) in the 2006 election after losing the Democratic primary to Ned Lamont. Though both representatives are technically independent politicians, they caucus with the Democrats.
In 1971, State Senator Henry Howell of Virginia, a former Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor as an independent. Two years later, he campaigned for Governor as an independent, losing the election by only 15,000 votes.
In 2006, there were 7 major independent candidates for statewide office including successful runs for the U.S. Senate by Bernie Sanders and Joseph Lieberman. In Maine, state legislator Barbara Merrill (formerly a Democrat) made the gubernatorial ballot, while retired college professor Bill Slavick ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. In Massachusetts, wealthy convenience store owner and former Massachusetts Turnpike Authority board member Christy Mihos ran for Governor. Finally, in Texas, country music singer and mystery novelist Kinky Friedman and State Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn both ran for Governor splitting the ballot four ways between themselves and the two major parties.
As of April 2007 at the state level, there were eleven people who held offices as independents in state legislatures. There were three state senators, one from Kentucky, one from Oregon, and one from Tennessee. The representatives came from the states of (2) Louisiana, (2) Maine, (2) Vermont, (2) Virginia.