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Why you should care

Because you can’t understand today’s candidates without listening to yesterday’s.

Learn more about the men and women who have run the ultimate political gauntlet in pursuit of the most powerful job on Earth by watching THE CONTENDERS - 16 FOR ’16, a new TV series from OZY airing every Tuesday at 8 p.m. EST this fall on PBS.

The deck is stacked against independent or third-party candidates in modern U.S. presidential politics but Ross Perot and Ralph Nader were two candidates who managed to leave their indelible marks on two recent presidential races.

Texas billionaire Ross Perot jumped into the presidential race on an episode of CNN’s “Larry King Live” in 1992, informing the talk show host he would run for president if his name were placed on the ballot in all 50 states. “Draft Perot” organizations soon started sprouting across the nation and legions of Perot volunteers joined the cause.

Campaigning on a platform of reducing the national debt and protecting American jobs from foreign competition, Perot’s no-nonsense challenge to incumbent Republican president George H.W. Bush and Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton appealed to many voters. He tried to explain the U.S. deficit to the public using low-tech charts, half-hour paid infomercials and folksy sayings; and in a set of rare opportunities, he stole the show during the presidential debates on stage with Bush and Clinton. Perot soared in the polls early, then dropped out of the race in July before re-entering a few months later. In the end, Perot was able to win 19 percent of the vote, marking one of the most successful third-party runs in history.

Before entering politics, Ralph Nader made his mark as a lawyer and consumer protection advocate whose landmark 1965 book on of the safety record of U.S. automobile manufacturers, Unsafe at Any Speed, helped lead to federally mandated seat belts and air bags. Nader and the legions of young lawyers and activists he inspired, would help shine a spotlight on unsafe products, pollution and industrial hazards.

Perhaps the most significant third-party candidate in American history, Nader ran for president in 2000 on the Green Party ticket, campaigning on many of the same issues he had fought for as a consumer advocate. Nader managed to get on the ballot in 43 states and would win almost 3 million votes and 3 percent of the popular vote, including over 97,000 votes in Florida, a state where George W. Bush defeated Al Gore by just 537 votes, which lead to the allegations from the left that he had cost Gore the election.


The route to the White House: news, stories and analysis from on and off the presidential campaign trail.