First, the good news, at least to Eliot Cutler: Americans Elect, designed to detoxify this nation’s poisoned political climate, landed a spot on this fall’s presidential ballot in dozens of states — including Maine.

Now the bad news: Having blazed what it calls a “third path” to the White House, the upstart organization failed to send anyone down it.

“It’s too bad,” conceded Cutler, who serves on Americans Elect’s nine-member board of directors, as this week’s deadline came and went without a single qualifier for the group’s first-ever online primaries.

Yet Cutler apologizes to no one. This battle, insists the independent runner-up to Gov. Paul LePage in 2010, has just begun.

“I’m not walking around gnashing my teeth about this,” he said in an interview Wednesday, even as pundits across the land took turns eulogizing Americans Elect as yet another failed attempt to break the two-party stranglehold on our democracy.

Why the stiff upper lip?

“Because I believe this is going to be a long-term process,” Cutler continued. “Just as the devolution of the political parties is a long-term process that’s ongoing every day.”

Launched amid unbridled optimism in July, Americans Elect was supposed to provide the national electorate with a high-tech bridge across the Great Political Divide.

The plan: Allow any registered U.S. voter to log onto the organization’s website as a “delegate” and either draft a presidential candidate or support one already posted.

To qualify for a series of “primaries” planned for this month, candidates would have to demonstrate sufficiently widespread support:

Top-tier contestants — those with a credential ranging from vice president of the United States all the way down to a university president — needed at least 1,000 clicks of support from each of 10 states. All others — from the well-intentioned dreamers to the downright delusional — faced a per-state minimum of 5,000 clicks.

The top six finishers in the May primaries would then go on to an online “convention” in June, in which voters nationwide would use a run-off system to elect a nonpartisan alternative to Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.

To be sure, Americans Elect suffered no shortage of candidates. (Ladies and gentlemen, please give a warm welcome to the next president of the United States — Sanderson Beck!)

Problem is, not one of them — repeat, not one — qualified for the primary.

As of Thursday, former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer topped the list of declared candidates with a total of just 6,829 votes. And Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who’s still technically in the GOP presidential race, led Americans Elect’s list of 481 “drafted” candidates with a paltry 9,494 votes.

Meaning a May runoff that was supposed to generate all the excitement of the Kentucky Derby instead produced one … big … national … yawn.

None of which seems to upset Cutler, who’s taking a decidedly glass-half-full approach to this populist horse race sans horses.

For starters, Cutler stressed, Americans Elect made history by clearing ballot-access hurdles in close to 30 states, not to mention others in the final stages of approval. (Here in Maine, paid petitioners did so by gathering 38,000 signatures of registered voters.)

“I think it’s terrific,” Cutler said. “We’ve demonstrated it can be done — and that’s important for the future.”

(As opposed to the present: According to Secretary of State’s Office spokeswoman Megan Sanborn, Americans Elect’s qualification for Maine’s presidential ballot comes with one rather obvious catch — no candidate, no spot on the ballot.)

So why the dearth of candidates? What happened to all those big names — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, billionaire Warren Buffett — who could have, maybe should have, but in the end didn’t?

“I think people look at the process and say, ‘Do I really want to put myself into this mix? Do I want to be a target of abuse?’” Cutler replied. “And you know, having done it, even on a small scale, I appreciate that set of reservations. I understand it.”

At the same time, he noted, America’s collective frustration with today’s hyper-partisan politics grows worse with each election cycle. And Cutler, whose unofficial campaign for governor in 2014 began within days of his narrow loss to LePage 18 months ago, sees Maine’s ever-quickening political pulse as no exception.

Wherever he goes, Cutler said, two lines in his stump speech invariably ignite sustained applause: his assurance that he never has and never will engage in negative political advertising, and his condemnation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United” decision removing any and all restrictions on independent political funding by corporations.

“All I can tell you is, what I sense out there in town after town, Rotary club after Rotary club, school after school, all over the state of Maine,” Cutler said. “It’s palpable. There’s a constellation of issues and feelings about America, about Maine, about politics, about what we’re all about, that the political system and the parties are not serving very well right now.”

Meaning, in Cutler’s view, the same support that has independent former Gov. Angus King leading the pack to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe will, later if not sooner, coalesce around a viable “third path” candidate for president. (Cutler, we should note, co-chairs King’s campaign.)

“It doesn’t take a lot to break the dam,” Cutler said. “I think we’re awfully close to that. And I think (King) can have enormous impact because there are so many people who want him to.”

Maybe so. But therein lies the problem: King is a living, breathing human being — and much to the irritation of his Republican and Democratic detractors, the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy hinges as much on his personality as his independent politics.

Americans Elect’s empty slot on the presidential ballot, on the other hand, is just that — empty. And no personality, alas, means no passion.

“I think you’re right,” Cutler conceded. “Passionate feelings are typically engendered by candidates. But I also think there is growing passion around the constellation of issues that lead in the direction I’m suggesting.”

Talk about a cutting-edge concept — a “constellation” in lieu of a real-live candidate.

I hereby nominate the Big Dipper.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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