HARTFORD, Conn. — Kyle Bailey knows firsthand it can be lonely working on a campaign for an independent political candidate.
There's no party structure to rely on to help with campaign fundraising, mobilizing voters, developing policies or even providing a sounding board. That lack of support adds to the challenge of getting someone who is not a Democrat or Republican elected in the U.S.
But these days, Bailey feels a lot less isolated. As the campaign manager for Maine independent gubernatorial candidate Terry Hayes, he has joined forces with a loose network of campaign staffers for independent gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidates, all considered politically moderate, in about five states this year.
They hold conference calls every Monday to share ideas and experiences on everything from social media to finding good interns. They've produced a professional video that features some of their candidates espousing the benefits of electing an independent, and asks whether "our country's divisive partisan system is what our founding fathers envisioned."
They're considering ways to raise money together from like-minded donors. There's even a documentary in the works.
Bailey, who has worked on several independent campaigns, including for an Atlanta mayoral candidate, sees voters more disgusted and turned off than ever with the bickering, divisiveness and hyperpartisanship surrounding the two major parties, an "old model" he contends "is just no longer sustainable."
"There's a whole lot of people in the middle who don't feel represented by a political party," Baily said. "Culturally, as a society, we're changing. Fewer people see themselves fitting nicely into a box."
Regulars on the calls include staffers for Hayes, Connecticut gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Craig O'Dear, Maryland U.S. Senate candidate Neal Simon and Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, who is seeking re-election.
"I feel like a rising tide lifts all boats," Bailey said.
Bailey and the others say it makes sense to spend the time each week picking one another's brains and offering advice because their respective candidates will ultimately benefit from the success of their compatriots. The goal is to get more voters to see independents as a viable alternative to the Republican or Democratic parties, and not as spoilers or unelectable.
"I think there are a lot of people who are hesitant to vote for an independent candidate," said Erin Nielsen, deputy campaign manager for O'Dear, who has been coordinating with other campaigns since January. If the different campaigns can show voters there is a national movement, she predicts, people will feel more comfortable giving their vote to someone different.
"What we see now is a legitimate movement," said Brady Quinn, O'Dear's campaign manager. "We've seen third parties, but we've never seen a movement. Our goal is not to create a new party. ... It's to provide people that don't affiliate with a party a place to go."
Kyle Lyddy, campaign manager for Griebel, sees that message resonating in 2018, given the rancor and hyperpartisanship of national politics that has seeped into state politics. His ticket gets positive feedback daily from voters, he said.
"If there's a time to do this, this is the time in Connecticut to make this happen," he said. Connecticut had an independent governor from 1991-1995, former Republican U.S. Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr.
Griebel is not as well-known. He's a former banker, lawyer, business leader and Republican who asked lifelong Democrat Monte Frank to run as his lieutenant governor. Frank is an attorney and the leader of Team 26, a group of cyclists that have ridden to Washington, D.C., for five years to raise awareness about gun violence since the deadly school shooting in Frank's hometown of Newtown.
Their ticket's slogan is: "No politics. No parties. Just solutions." They talk about appealing to "the radical middle" and the need to "put aside differences in political ideology" to help solve the state's serious budget problems.
The message appealed to Democratic voter Elaine Butler, of New London, a legal guardian for adults with mental illness, who said she's "beyond frustrated" with state and national politics. She recently signed Griebel's petition during a campaign stop at a New London coffee shop. State election officials this week approved the 7,500 signatures he needed to appear on the November ballot.
"I figure I want to get everybody into the mix right now," Butler said. "We need change. Definitely need change. And the more people that are running, the more choice we have."
But such sentiment might not be enough. Griebel and Frank decided not to participate in Connecticut's public campaign finance system and have struggled in recent months to raise contributions because it took longer than expected to get their petitions approved — another example of the challenges independent candidates face.
While they anticipate raising more money now that they have obtained ballot access, they face two wealthy major-party businessmen in November who are mostly self-funding their campaigns and have been running TV ads throughout the summertime primary season.
Sacred Heart University Professor Gary Rose said the lack of funding has hurt Griebel's ability to build name recognition.
"I think the low exposure of Oz is not going to be to his advantage," Rose said.
A Quinnipiac University poll this month showed 4 percent of voters supported Griebel, but 83 percent said they didn't know enough about him to form an opinion yet.
The independent ticket is not giving up, arguing most voters haven't been paying that much attention to the race over the summer.
In fact, Griebel and Frank plan to hold a joint fundraiser in September with a New York campaign that participates in the weekly conference calls. It's another bipartisan team for governor: former Democratic Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and her running mate, Republican Pelham Mayor Michael Volpe.