The Libertarian Party has struggled with its identity since its founding in 1971. Technically America’s third largest political party, the LP’s political efforts have often made it seem like America’s Third Largest Debate Club. The LP has elected only a handful of its members to state legislatures, and elected no candidates to federal office. In 2008, the party broke with tradition by nominating a carpetbagging repentant drug warrior, former Republican congressman Bob Barr, whose nomination over LP mainstay and perennial candidate for office Mary Ruwart nearly tore the party in half.
It appears the party has found a balance with the nomination of former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson for president and Judge Jim Gray of California for vice president. Both men are former Republican officeholders with high media profiles, both are committed libertarians, and both won their respective nominations at the Libertarian National Convention in Las Vegas by large margins and after only one round of voting.
Yet shortly after confetti cannons fired celebratory glitter directly in front of C-SPAN’s cameras, the party resumed its internal squabbling, and a confusing and frustrating fight over who would chair the Libertarian National Committee lasted two days. Eventually, a candidate from the more purist wing of the party, Geoff Neale, won out, defeating two candidates from the more electorally focused wing of the party. LP delegates then cleaned house, replacing every party officer.
With the LP slated to have its highest profile presidential ticket since Ed Clark and David Koch ran together in 1980, hundreds more candidates running for lower offices across the country, and Americans more interested in libertarian ideas than ever before, the Party of Principle still has some questions it needs to answer. Can it qualify for the ballot in all 50 states? Can members stop fighting each other over who is more libertarian? Can the Libertarian National Committee do its job?
Can the LP qualify for the ballot in all 50 states?
Bill Redpath is the party’s brain when it comes to ballot access issues, and he can say without blinking what the LP's problems are when it comes to getting names into the Diebold machine in states like Oklahoma, where not just Libertarians, but all minor parties are absent in the voting booth.
"It's because they have an extremely high, almost unattainable signature threshold for such a rural state," he said.
Will the party’s recent infighting over its officers impact its ability to get on the ballot in all 50 states, a quadrennial goal for the LP?
Redpath doesn’t think so.
“The infighting just shows that there is no consensus chair coming out of the convention. There was no convention for chair like there was for president with Gary Johson. I think we’ll move forward and hopefully be on the ballot, if not on all 50 states than in the high 40s,” he said.
Mark Rutherford, a former vice chair of the Libertarian National Committee and one of the candidates that came up just short in the race for national chair, views Redpath as one of the most important people in the party, and he's worried that the party does not have enough people like him.
"One of things I’ve observed, and this is not critical of him but, we’ve been too reliant on Bill Redpath. I even said this to Bill once. I said, 'Bill, I am really worried what would happen if you got run over by a bus.' And I know he’s tried to mentor people in the past but I think a huge emphasis needs to be put on people who get this book of knowledge from Bill in case Bill gets sick, sick of it, or far worse so we’re not really between a rock and a hard place. He’s excellent at it," Rutherford said
Redpath, a last minute nominee for the national committee chair who lost on the fourth ballot, has high hopes for the Johnson/Gray ticket. He expects it will set record vote totals for the party, particularly if they can obtain nationwide ballot access. The party’s record of late, though, is nothing to write home about.
The LP’s national ballot access has fallen steadily since 1996 when it was on the ballot in all 50 states. In 2000 it was on the ballot in every state except Arizona. In 2004 the party was on the ballot in every state minus Oklahoma and New Hampshire. In 2008 the party failed to qualify for the ballot in over five states, plus the District of Columbia.
In recent years independent candidates and the Green Party have been nipping at the heels of the party, but Redpath is steadfast in his belief in that the LP is superior.