Group Working for Bipartisan Presidential Ticket

In a sparse office in the infamous Watergate building, the only sound is the quiet key-tapping of two 20-something political novices bowed over their computers.

They are the workhorses of a grassroots campaign to achieve the unimaginable -- the election of a bipartisan presidential ticket in 2008.

In the cramped room next door, a couple of political dynamos of the 1970s hold a meeting about how to raise funds for the effort, which is called Unity08.

It is an unlikely partnership -- on one end of the table, Doug Bailey, founder of the political pulse-meter "The Hotline" and former advisor to Gerald Ford, and, on the other end, Gerry Rafshoon, who helped mastermind Jimmy Carter's defeat of Ford in the 1976 election. They are strange bedfellows with a common goal -- to take American politics back to the center.

Their ambitious idea to elect a bipartisan ticket was hashed out on an October evening just before the 2005 elections. They were joined by Hamilton Jordan, the other half of Carter's savvy strategy team, who, years later, became known for his adept management of Ross Perot's presidential campaign.

During the meeting, the mix of Democrats and Republicans came to the conclusion that the two-party system has so fractured the country that the most important national issues are being sidelined by divisive "wedge" issues, such as abortion and gay marriage.

"Washington has become so polarized, so divided, it concentrates so much on bickering and arguing and blame game politics that it never addresses what are the crucial issues in front of the country," Bailey said.

He laments that issues such as healthcare, Social Security and energy independence are not being addressed.

Unity08's organizers may have the experience and connections to get the initiative off the ground, but they are depending on a modern Internet phenomenon for its success. They plan to hold the first online presidential convention, which will essentially be a nationwide online primary to elect a ticket.

The technology and logistics are still being worked out, but the voting process would not be that different from "American Idol." More than 50,000 delegates have already signed up at the Unity08 Web site. Any registered voter can participate without leaving their current party affiliation.

According to the Web site, the "unity ticket will consist of a woman and/or man from each party running for president and vice president, or by independents who assemble a Unity team from both parties."

While the voting rules have not been solidified, the general plan is to have convention delegates vote for a combined ticket, with each candidate for president choosing a running mate before balloting begins.

Names such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sen. Chuck Hagel have been thrown out as sought-after Unity ticket nominees. But organizers insist they don't back a particular candidate, and no one has yet to announce a bid for the ticket. Ultimately, this may come down to the delegates drafting nominees, who might then be convinced to run for the presidency.

The organizers face obvious challenges to get enough participants and are relying on YouTube and viral politicking to get the word out. Their goal is to have 10 million people, 10 percent of registered voters, sign up as delegates. They believe if they achieve that, they will have a better chance of getting the funds they need to field a presidential candidate.

There are also significant legal barriers. The group is challenging a Federal Election Commission conclusion that considers Unity08 a political committee that supports a candidate, thereby restricting funding.

But the greatest obstacle will be getting access to ballots in all 50 states, each of which has a different set of election laws. The Unity team has retained prominent Washington, D.C., law firm Steptoe and Johnson to advise on the ballot access issues, another sign that the founders are serious about reaching their goal.

Rafshoon, who has spent the last decade as a filmmaker, enlisted his longtime friend Sam Waterston to be a celebrity spokesman for the cause.

In an interview with ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," the well-recognized "Law & Order" actor said, "Unity08 is a new process to do a very old thing, which is to have direct input of the people in the nomination and election of a president and a vice president. … It can do this thing which couldn't have been done before because of the evolution of the Internet."

If such an undertaking were initiated by most people, it would have little chance of being taken seriously. But as ABC's Cokie Roberts pointed out, "The advantage to this group is they know how the system works."

"It's hard to imagine their presidential ticket goes anywhere. But could it have an impact? Absolutely," she said.

Ross Perot is the most successful third-party candidate in recent times, gaining an impressive 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, and shifting the debate on major issues such as foreign trade.

Very few third-party candidates have actually won the presidency; Abraham Lincoln is one.

The Unity team is counting on the accelerated primary schedule this year to give their movement a boost. By next February, the two major parties will likely have chosen their nominees. By the time Unity holds its convention in June, it hopes voters will be looking for an alternative, and that ambitious candidates who didn't win the early primaries will consider running on a Unity ticket.

The founders don't deny that they are being idealistic, but Rafshoon said, "Presidencies are won by idealists. They're not won by the person who has the most money."

The Unity organizers say they are depending on relatively small donations from millions of Americans who also believe the political system is "broken."