About two dozen supporters gathered on the steps of the Utah state Capitol Wednesday afternoon to welcome what they hope will be the next big thing in Utah politics: the Forward Party.

Started by former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, the Forward Party was formed last year as an alternative to the “two-party duopoly,” Yang told the Deseret News.

In order to become a registered political party in Utah, an organization must submit 2,000 signatures of prospective members to the lieutenant governor’s office. Wednesday’s event at the state Capitol was to formally hand in a batch of over 2,500 signatures.

“We want to see progress around the really serious issues that America is facing, and we can’t do that if no one is willing to speak with one another,” said Kerry Healey, a member of the Forward Party’s board of directors.

If approved, the Forward Party will be the seventh political party recognized in Utah, beside the Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, United Utah, Independent American and Constitution parties.

Forward’s announcement comes at a time of increasing interest in third parties. According to a recent Gallup poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans think a third major political party is needed. A Pew poll shows growing disillusionment with the two major parties.

Mark Nielson signs a Utah Forward Party political party registration petition outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. The Utah Forward Party has collected more than 2,000 petition signatures, which is required to put the party on voting ballots. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

On the presidential front, poll after poll show many Americans uninspired by the two major party candidates — President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who’d previously declared his candidacy as a Democrat, announced this week that he is running as an independent. And No Labels is working to get ballot access for an independent candidate in states around the country.

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Sen. Mitt Romney poured cold water on the No Labels strategy Tuesday evening, saying he’s “not convinced” by its plans to run an independent candidate.

During a fireside chat with his 2012 running mate Paul Ryan at the E2 Summit in Park City, attended by four Republican presidential candidates, Romney expressed doubt that an independent candidate would be capable of reaching the threshold of 270 Electoral College votes. “I think that’s maybe a bridge too far,” he said.

Many independent presidential candidates historically have made the case for a “contingent election,” which would push the vote to the House of Representatives if no candidate wins a majority of Electoral College votes outright. But Romney rejects the assertion that House members would vote for a No Labels candidate over their party’s nominee.

“The Republicans who endorsed the Republican (nominee), if they’re the ones that have the majority, they’re going to vote for the Republican, or they’re all going to lose their primary the next time around,” Romney said. “And the Democrats, if they were in the lead, they would vote for the Democrat.”

Former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., left, speaks with Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, during the E2 Summit at Stein Eriksen Lodge on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, in Park City. | Alex Goodlett, for the Deseret News

The only path, Romney posits, for an independent candidate would be winning the Electoral College vote outright, which would require “an extraordinary personality” with the capacity to “ignite people” and “start a movement.”

“But if you look around at the names of the people that might consider this job, I just don’t see how that happens,” Romney said.

Romney himself considered running this cycle as an independent, an excerpt from McKay Coppins’ forthcoming biography, “Romney: A Reckoning,” revealed. “The goal wouldn’t be to win,” Coppins writes, “but to mount a kind of protest against the terrible options offered by the two-party system.

“He also wanted to ensure that someone onstage was effectively holding Trump to account,” Coppins continued.

Romney later decided against it, after calculating that his candidacy would likely benefit Trump. He’s now reportedly considering starting his own party, alongside centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Forward Party, for its part, is not running a presidential candidate in 2024. “The Forward Party is a grassroots, bottom-up party,” Healey said. Instead of gearing to get a candidate on the presidential ballot, the Forward Party will run candidates in down-ballot races — “everything from school board and city councilors to mayors and state houses,” Healey said. Where they don’t run a candidate they’ll consider endorsing other “reform-minded” candidates, which they call “candidate affiliates,” who maintain their party affiliation but run with the support of Forward.

January Walker, United Utah Party’s 2nd Congressional District candidate, talks with Phil Boileau, Utah Forward Party state co-lead, during a press conference with the Utah Forward Party to announce the party’s collection of more than 2,000 petition signatures, which is required to put the party on voting ballots, outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. The Utah Forward Party endorses Walker. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

January Walker, who’s running as the United Utah Party candidate for both this year’s 2nd Congressional District race and next year’s 4th Congressional District election, has the Utah Forward Party’s support. She attended the event at the state Capitol Wednesday.

Instead of having a concrete platform, the Forward Party allows its surrogates in each state to determine its areas of focus. In Utah, those areas are alternative voting methods (like ranked choice voting), open primaries and ending gerrymandering, Utah Forward Party co-chair Adam Teuscher said.

“We’re hoping that Forward can be a banner in place, where people who are reform-minded — no matter what their allegiance or affiliation is — can unite here together,” Teuscher said.

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The Forward Party critics say this strategy leads to hollowness. Mary Anna Mancuso, the party’s former national press secretary, claims the party is “agnostic” when it comes to policy stances, thinking “it is better to not take a stand” than to “plant a flag and alienate people.”

“That’s right — no platform laying out party principles and positions, no policies, no plan. Only showmanship,” Mancuso wrote in Politico.

Healey, who served as the lieutenant governor under Romney during his stint as Massachusetts governor, sees the party’s attempts at broad appeal as a strength. “Each state has their own priorities, and their own culture,” she said. “We don’t want to be dictating from the national level what precisely those policies should be.”

Healey said she hasn’t pitched Romney on joining the Forward Party. “I have respected his decision to be in the Republican Party,” she said. “But I’m sure that he is aware of what I’m doing, and I hope he takes an interest.”

Supporters hold signs during a press conference to announce Utah Forward Party’s collection of more than 2,000 petition signatures, which is required to put the party on voting ballots, outside of the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
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