Americans Elect, the wacky but well-funded effort to put an independent "unity ticket" on the ballot in all 50 states through a public online-voting process, opened its virtual floor to nominations last week. And already, one candidate is running away with first place, with more than 1,000 votes: Ron Paul.
Paul may still be a contender for the Republican nomination, but his avid fan base, it seems, has already begun to clamor for him to run outside the framework of the two-party system.
Paul has repeatedly said he doesn't plan to do that, although he has left the door slightly ajar by declining to totally rule out such a bid. (There is, in political-speak, a world of difference between "I have no intention of doing that" and "I promise never to do that," even though politicians' promises are hardly more permanent than their current intentions.)
Second in the Americans Elect "draft" balloting as of Tuesday afternoon was a former Republican candidate, Jon Huntsman, followed by Bernie Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont.
In fourth place, oddly enough, was President Obama -- could he be his own spoiler? -- followed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Buddy Roemer, the long-shot GOP presidential candidate and former governor of Louisiana.
But it's early. The "drafting" process goes through early May. After that come three rounds of voting to reduce the field to six candidates, each of whom must pick a running mate of the opposite party or ideological persuasion. An online convention in June will choose the ticket.
The group has secured access to the ballot in 16 states, is pending certification in two more, and has completed the requirements for access in another 14.
Were Paul to win the Americans Elect sweeps, he could always turn down the offer. But the group hopes that the prospect of instant ballot access, plus the groundswell of grassroots support, would be difficult for any candidate to refuse.