Libertarians Elect Democrat?

For the second consecutive election a Libertarian Party candidate denied both major-party nominees a majorityin Georgia's U.S. Senate race.

In 1992, Libertarian Jim Hudson received 60,000 votes, around 3 percent of those cast-- enough to withhold victory from Democratic incumbent Wyche Fowler and his Republican challenger, Paul Coverdell. Even though Fowler led after the general election, state law required a runoff, which Coverdell, with Libertarian support, won by 16,000 votes.

After Coverdell's election the Democrat-controlled legislature reduced the threshold for triggering a runoff. The top candidate can now win in the general election with 45 percent of the vote rather than 50 percent.

This time Libertarian Jack Cashin's 82,000 votes may have cost Republican Guy Millner the seat of retiring Sen. Sam Nunn. The race between millionaire businessman Millner, who almost won the race for governor in 1994, and Georgia Secretary of State Max Cleland was nasty and personal.

Cashin, a 71-year-old horse farmer, portrayed himself as the moderate in the race, arguing that Cleland was a left-wing extremist and Millner was in hock to the religious right. In the only statewide debate featuring the three candidates, Cashin said he was "embarrassed" by the tone of the campaign. Cashin ended up denying both Cleland and Millner a majority on election day: Cleland got 48.8 percent of the vote, Millner 47.6. Since Cleland received more than 45 percent, however, he avoided a runoff.

Libertarian voters may have cost Millner the race--suggesting that the two major parties may need to make more explicit overtures to those voters in the future. Coverdell, former Republican Sen. Mack Mattingly, and state L.P. Executive Director Audrey Goldstein all told the Chattanooga Free Press that most of Cashin's voters would have supported Millner had the L.P. not been on the ballot. Even Goldstein admitted that, in a two-way race, she would have voted for Millner.

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