A union-backed effort to create a new political party in North Carolina to challenge congressional Democrats who voted against the health care bill fizzled for this year because organizers didn't have enough signatures to qualify, a group spokesman said Tuesday.
North Carolina First is now working to collect nearly 17,000 signatures by June 25 to draft an independent candidate on the November ballot to challenge first-term Rep. Larry Kissell in the 8th Congressional District, said spokesman Greg Rideout.
The state has one of the highest thresholds in the country to get a new political party on the ballot. A group has to collect signatures equal to 2 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. North Carolina First was looking to get 85,000.
"We're now looking toward the 2012 election," movement spokesman Greg Rideout said. "We always knew we were facing this big hurdle."
The group needed the signatures by June 1 to be a certified party and put candidates on the ballot this fall. But organizers didn't turn in petitions to county election offices by a deadline Monday so the signatures could be verified.
The movement this year had wanted to challenge Kissell and two other conservative Democrats — Reps. Mike McIntyre in the 7th District and Health Shuler in the 11th — who voted against the final health care bill.
The independent candidate the group might put up, Wendell Fant, used to work in Kissell's office, according to Rideout.
"We're here to stay," he said. "We are going to be a factor in the 8th District."
The group is backed by the Service Employees International Union and its local, the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
State Employees Association executive director Dana Cope said he considered North Carolina First, if successful, a potential model for other states in offering another choice to voters, particularly adults in working families.
Democrats worried about a third party's ability to cut into votes for incumbents, which could lead to Republicans grabbing the three seats.
Andrew Whalen, executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, said late Tuesday the effort by the movement was shortsighted "and would have done nothing to help North Carolina's working families."
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