Notching a Victory


When all the votes were tallied, he got the support of only 2,300 New Hampshire residents—fewer than half the number who wrote in Mario Cuomo's name. But from just after midnight until 7 a.m. on February 18, more voters had cast their ballots for Libertarian Andre Marrou than for any other presidential candidate nationwide.

Marrou "won" the election in tiny Dixville Notch, the town that lets its 31 registered voters cast their ballots just after midnight on primary morning. (The other polls don't open until 7 a.m.) The former Alaska legislator collected 11 votes there, more than President Bush's nine or pundit Pat Buchanan's three. Marrou also outpolled Democrats Bill Clinton (three votes) and Paul Tsongas (two).

Press outlets in media-saturated New Hampshire picked up the story immediately. Morning newscasts reported the Dixville Notch totals. A February 19 Washington Post headline read, "Libertarian Candidate Won First N.H. Votes." C-Span invited Marrou to appear on a 30-minute viewer call-in program that same day. For an ideological party that values selling its principles more than electing its candidates, Marrou's victory was a welcome surprise.

The Marrou campaign cites two reasons for its "win": several appearances in Dixville Notch by Marrou and his running mate, Washington, D.C., physician Nancy Lord; and a 10-minute audio tape prepared by popular Boston radio host (and frequent Dixville Notch visitor) Gene Burns pitching the L.P.'s limited-government message to the locals.

While Democrats and Republicans quibble over dollar-a-day tax cuts, Marrou wants to eliminate the personal income tax altogether. He says the federal government gets around 36 percent of its revenue from people filing 1040 forms. "When [was] the last time the federal [budget] was 36 percent smaller than it is now," he responded to a C-Span caller on the 19th. "1949? Or 1962? No. It was 1987." He argues the feds can operate with the same revenue they had five years ago. (Of course, those 1987 budgets did include hefty deficit financing, meaning that spending outran revenue.)

The Marrou campaign will have trouble translating the brief attention it received in media-focused New Hampshire into primary votes elsewhere. State laws prevent the L.P. from competing in 44 of the 51 primaries. And such "legitimate" insurgents as Buchanan, Tsongas, and former California Gov. Jerry Brown may dilute the impact Marrou might have had were he running against "insiders" by himself.

Marrou doesn't contemplate victory in November; if he gets 1 million votes, he'll break the L.P. record Ed Clark set in 1980. Still, the party may look back with some satisfaction that, for seven hours in February, its candidate for president led the pack.