Libertarian Party

A Libertarian Party Moment?

Three high-polling L.P. candidates contemplate a possible banner year for the third party


The Libertarian Party (L.P.) is showing signs of unusually encouraging midterm election results in November. This seems only natural for an era when both independence from major party identification and a general yen for libertarian ideas are growing.

According to estimates from longtime third-party expert Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, the L.P. looks on target to achieve a historic record in votes for a third party in a midterm election: over 2 million votes for what Winger defines as "top line" races. That's governor where applicable, federal Senate where it's not, and offices such as secretary of state or attorney general where neither governor nor federal Senate are in play for the party. The L.P., according to Winger, has such top-line candidates on the ballot in 37 states this year, its highest number ever for a midterm election.

Everyone from The Washington Post to USA Today to National Journal to Reason have noted some surprisingly strong early poll numbers for various L.P. candidates—though third parties that expect early polling to equal actual results on election day tend to be disappointed.

Still, the executive director of the L.P.'s National Committee, Wes Benedict, thinks that the surprisingly high 6.5 percent total won by Robert Sarvis in the Virginia governor's race last year (Sarvis is running again for federal Senate this year) marks a possible new age for the party. Benedict certainly credits Sarvis with attracting a new generation of candidates willing to put themselves through the often fruitless and frustrating wringer of running for office with the L.P.

Why are things different now? Benedict thinks the sea change in public attitude toward what used to be a "crazy libertarian thing," reducing or eliminating the drug war (at least on marijuana), has helped turn derisive laughter to a sense that these Libertarians were ahead of their time on an important issue.

The post-crisis bipartisan bailouts also opened voters' eyes to the essential sameness of the two major parties when it comes to widely despised crony capitalism, he thinks. And Benedict also points to sudden bursts in size and effectiveness of state affiliates in states such as Washington, Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi as helping the party field an unusually (but not historically) large total number of candidates on the ballot for all offices this year, around 750.

Benedict used to run a political action committee (PAC) dedicated to supporting L.P. candidates, Libertarian Booster, though it has gone into hibernation as he's returned to official duties with the national party. As far as Benedict knows, no other significant PAC money has gone into Libertarian races, which are as thinly funded as ever this year except for one outlier, Chad Monnin, running for a state* House seat in Ohio and spending at least $100,000 of his own money on his campaign. (The national L.P. tends to do no spending for specific midterm candidates but has, Benedict says, been relatively steady with about $1.2-1.4 million budgets for the past 8-10 years.)

Benedict recognizes that the Republicans, post-Ron Paul, have had a growing reputation for having a lively libertarian wing, though he thinks that's a double-edged sword for the GOP when it comes to winning libertarian-leaning voters. Benedict credits the Republican Party apparatus' crummy treatment of Paul fans in Louisiana with driving many Paul activists out of the GOP and into the Libertarian Party.

When the Republicans have the opportunity to use dirty tricks to keep Libertarian opposition off the ballots, they have done so in Illinois and Ohio. When they have the opportunity to bring forth their most prominent libertarian gun, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, to campaign for Republican candidates in states where L.P. candidates seem to be doing well (like Kentucky itself), they do so.

Still, the L.P. has some candidates who promise from early polling to do quite well and likely beat the spread between the Democrat and the Republican, thus shaping the outcome of the race.

Sean Haugh, federal Senate candidate from North Carolina

Haugh, who ran for this same office in 2002, is famous in the media as the pizzaman who is polling well beyond the spread between his major party opponents, incumbent Democrat Kay Hagen and Republican Thom Tillis, current speaker of the state House. Haugh is scheduled to appear in a public debate with his major party opponents tomorrow, and believes that both are "wildly unpopular—their only chances of winning is running against each other."

Haugh says the pizzaman thing is actually "an overwhelming positive for me—the fact I'm a regular working guy is very appealing to people." If accused of a lack of political experience, "look at the job performance of who we have now; they have experience in creating a mess." Political experience these days "should be a big black mark on your record."

As we spoke by phone on Monday, Haugh was driving many hours across the state from a campaign media trip back to Durham for his evening shift of pizza delivery, a job he says "I find a lot more enjoyable than I thought I would," particularly finding it a salubrious break from the stresses of campaigning.

Haugh is an old L.P. hand—his first political job was as paid petitioner for ballot access for the Ed Clark/David Koch run in 1980. He became disillusioned with the Party's seeming disconnect from electoral reality in the '80s, but in 1992 was pleasantly surprised to find the L.P. running candidates he saw on TV; most of them "actually showed up in a suit and talked about issues people cared about" and he became active again. In the past he's been chair of the state Party in North Carolina and run for various other state offices.

Haugh says his front-and-center message this campaign is "Stop all wars. I wouldn't say it's my single issue but it is one I'm totally focused on and it has implications for so many policy issues. The only solution the Republicans and Democrats have is more bombing campaigns, and our wars helped create even greater problems for us than when we first started." He strives, Haugh says, to cast the libertarian message "in a way where I'm not educating anybody, where I'm saying things that already appeal to common sense and what voters are already thinking." He believes most voters understand the fruitless waste of our foreign policy and the need to curb endless spending and debt.

Haugh has polled multiple times beating the spread between Hagen and Tillis (including one June poll at 11 percent, though lately his number has been smaller) and he's annoyed by the presumption that the libertarian vote should properly go to Republican Tillis. Any data about how the election would go if he weren't in it is flawed, he says, since the polling never allows for what he considers the natural reaction of a Haugh voter who couldn't vote for Haugh—not voting at all.

His fundraising has been tiny, around $8,000, but this doesn't worry him. The biggest difference between this year and his 2002 run, he says, is that "I don't have to explain to anybody what a libertarian is now" and that social media exists to cheaply and efficiently spread his message. He doesn't worry about paid media since "I have more earned media opportunities than I can handle right now" and generally suspects that most paid political advertising does little good for anyone but the vendors and consultants who make them. He even questions the value of the traditional campaign yard sign, which "from an environmentalist perspective I find just litter on the highways—I'm doing voters a favor by not cluttering up the streets."

Haugh was gratified that Republican big gun Rand Paul came out to support Tillis; just a sign that the Party itself recognizes the hopelessness of Tillis' position and thinks the libertarian-minded voter understands, despite the occasional Paul or Justin Amash or Thomas Massie, that the libertarian perspective is still "a minority in the Republican Party."

David Patterson, federal Senate candidate from Kentucky

Patterson is a police officer in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, and noted in a National Journal profile the potential ironies of that—though he says he tries to issue less tickets than the average cop. His political consciousness was raised by Ron Paul in 2012 and he discovered he'd been, unknowingly, "a libertarian all my life" and connected with the state L.P. With his wife's approval, he stepped up to run for Senate when the Party needed a candidate and has found it "an incredibly positive experience" despite having to fit 20-30 hours of campaigning a week around a typical daily 4 p.m. to midnight shift at his police job.

Already serving the Senate from Kentucky is the very libertarian-identified Rand Paul, who has plumped for his colleague (and former enemy) Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Patterson has also polled multiple times matching or beating the polled spread between McConnell and his Democratic opponent Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Patterson says spending and taxation are his biggest issues, though he is also one of 35 national L.P. candidates who signed a pledge to reduce, if in office, military spending by at least 60 percent. He says the U.S. has overextended itself overseas to our detriment, that we should strive to be more respectful of other nation's sovereignty, and the "only time we should step in if there's a clear and present threat to the United States", though he doesn't fully rule out situational humanitarian aid in cases like "earthquakes, tsunamis, or nuclear meltdowns."

Patterson also is running a financially-limited campaign—he thinks he's raised less than $5,000—and unlike Haugh he's been blocked from debates. He's filed a lawsuit challenging his exclusion from a Kentucky Educational Television debate, insisting the network deliberately and discriminatorily changed criteria to keep him out. He sees his surprising poll results as arising in part from voter belief that McConnell is just a skilled and insincere reader of public opinion, and that Grimes as a Democrats' biggest negative is "Obama—she's got 'Obama Democrat' as a slogan on her shoulder." Patterson thinks "personal voter interaction is more important than gold." If he can encourage everyone who already knows and likes his campaign to tell 10 friends, he says, and that if three of those friends are also sold, "we could be looking at 30 percent."

Does anyone ever hit him with the third party "spoiler" accusation, in a year when Republicans are fighting a tight battle to regain control of the Senate?

"Why is GOP control of the Senate so important?" asks Patterson. "Look at the last 16 years, where you had Republican or Democrat control, they are essentially the same. They will squabble like they are not but in reality they want the same things in a lot of areas. All I can say is having Mitch McConnell be majority leader in the Senate is something that will have absolutely no effect" that any small government lover should care about.

Adrian Wyllie, gubernatorial candidate from Florida

Wyllie, who runs his own I.T. firm and political radio network in Florida, was converted to the Libertarian Party via the "world's smallest political quiz" in the early '90s and became inspired enough to run for office by "frustration with the direction of the country and the growing usurpation of power by government, the loss of economic freedom and individual liberty got to the point I couldn't just sit around."

He's been running for governor since January 2013, has over 2000 volunteers, and has raised a little over $100,000 (still a tiny fraction of his opponents multiple millions on ads alone). Like Patterson, he's found it necessary to sue to try to get into a debate with his opponents, former Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist and incumbent Republican Rick Scott.

Again, his good polling (11 percent in one recent Quinnipiac poll) is likely linked to high negatives for both other candidates in voters' eyes. Wyllie says he finds many former Republicans telling him that "Republicans don't believe in small government anymore; only the Libertarians do. By the same token, Democrats will tell me that Democrats don't believe in civil liberties anymore; only the Libertarians do."

Wyllie's state-based concerns include eliminating common core and other federal interference in education, a 30 percent state budget cut, eliminating property taxes on primary residences, and lifting federal regulatory burdens on businesses that operate exclusively in Florida—inspired by the work of the 10th Amendment Center.

Florida is a huge and aggravating state to campaign in; Wyllie says he drove over 6000 miles in August campaigning, and expects to do even more in the next month leading to the election. He sums up the Libertarian message as "I want to keep government out of your wallet, your bedroom, and your business." 

While his opponents ignore him publicly, Wyllie says he's caught wind of whisper campaigns accusing him of having once stripped naked during a protest at the state capitol. Not true, Wyllie says. Still, after running media for a 2010 L.P. Senate campaign, Wyllie says that the difference in positive awareness of libertarianism "is unbelievable, not only do people know the libertarian message they embrace it. I think it has a lot to do with Republicans and Democrats being who they are: the exact same party."

*CORRECTION: The article originally mistakenly stated Monnin was running for a federal House seat.

NEXT: ISIS on the Move, Everybody Hates Common Core, Sarah Silverman Rants About the Wage Gap: P.M. Links

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  1. Every libertarian or libertarianish person in major political office is a Republican.

    They appeal to, and get elected by Republicans.

    This strategy is working.

    So what does the LP do? Glorify in being a ‘spoiler’ party–one with no hope of winning that is willing to shoot down even candidates who are libertarian or libertarianish to further….what exactly?

    It is principles that are important, not people or parties.

    1. a ‘spoiler’ party

      One that appears will only help elect more Democrats who are more anti-libertarian than the Republicans. I mean they support gutting the First Amendment!

      1. we have enough trouble with stupid
        tea partiers we don’t need crazy
        libertarians too

        1. Sorry, that’s statistically untrue.

          The LP is a party of the center and its people in office historically come mostly from the center and left, and those who vote for them divide equally across the spectrum.

          Thanks for the item. For info on what world Libertarians are doing, see the Libertarian International Organization.

    2. “It is principles that are important, not people or parties”

      Do you care to live in a world where people and parties have no principles?

      1. Nope, and yet here I am.

        That whole “reality” thing can be a real bitch sometimes.

        1. “Reality” is not a synonym for “cynicism”.

          1. Sure, but let’s be real:

            The type of people who exist and dominate politics in almost any country are, at best, egocentric people with a healthy dollop of self-importance and an eye towards taking actions that posterity will view favorably (e.g., the Founding Fathers). At worst, you get Lenin and his merry band of cutthroats. In between you have our current political class. The ideal nation of philosopher-citizens who all have rationally-held principles (all or most of which are good principles) is almost as absurd as the idea of the New Soviet Man; most people are not interested in that existence and so one would either have to force them to be that way (antithetical to the idea of a libertarian society) or otherwise have a plan to get unmotivated people motivated to make this massive sea-change in how they self-conceptualize and want to run their own lives — in which case you’re running the equivalent of a religion (libertarian Confucianism?) and you should set up shop now, because converting the heathen takes a long time and doesn’t always take (see the decline of Christianity in the West).

            Huh. That does come off a tad cynical, now that I think about it.

            1. You forgot that Obama is changing all that.

    3. Every libertarian or libertarianish person in major political office is a Republican.

      They appeal to, and get elected by Republicans.

      So so many of those too…

      1. I do not like Republican politicians much more than I like Democratic Politicians.

        I, however, very much more like Republican people over Democratic people.

        We can talk about the politicians all day, but the people we need to win over are Republicans.

        They are a much more logic oriented people. They are who we need to change, and we have been doing a damn fine job doing it.

        Democrats are fucking idiots. There is no other way to describe them. They are evil fucking idiots.

    4. If principles are important, A, then why are you calling a principled vote for Libertarians a Bad Thing if it means that Republicans don’t win the election?

      Aren’t “principles” what you do when you are willing to take the consequences?

      I think you’re a little confused re: principles v. parties.

    5. Every libertarian or libertarianish person in major political office is a Republican.

      Not to excuse the LP, but the reaction of the Republican Party establishment to this trend has been mostly to denounce libertarianism and oppose libertarian candidates in their primaries.

      1. Agree. I was a a 2012 Ron Paul state delegate. My state is a winner take all state. Ron Paul won my state. But the RNC decided to award half the delegates to Romney. Our somewhat pro Ron Paul governor walked out of the convention after the “ruling.” Most of the liberty/libertarian Republicans subsequently enrolled as independents. It was clear in our state and at the national level libertarian Republicans are not welcome.

        1. Similar thing happened in Maine.

    6. Sorry, that’s statistically untrue.

      The LP is a party of the center and its people in office historically come mostly from the center and left, and those who vote for them divide equally across the spectrum.

      Thanks for the item. For info on what world Libertarians are doing, see the Libertarian International Organization.

      1. ^^^^See this?^^^^

        This is the problem right here. This is the undermining of liberty in favor of statism.

        There is nothing on the left that supports liberty. Nothing.

  2. A Libertarian Party Moment?

    Wouldn’t that require them to actually win a congressional race somewhere?

    1. If the libertarian moment is summarized by libertarian candidates getting 4% of the votes as opposed to 1%, that’s just means more of the same.

  3. Also why haven’t the LP make inroads in Democratic areas? That would be a sign of an actual libertarian moment and that the LP is more than a party that “spoils” races in favor of the Democrats.

    1. Also why haven’t the LP make inroads in Democratic areas?

      They’ve made inroads in non-Democratic areas?

      Since as everybody is willing to admit LP candidates do poorly in most elections, they are only “spoiling” close elections, which by definition occur in areas not dominated by either party.

      1. The claim is false. Trained Libertarians do statistically better than most other candidates, and win at about the same rate after several tries, especially in local office. They’re also regularly appointed by colleagues of the other parties.

        Many LP candidates are run solely for legal reasons to facilitate ballot access or lawsuits, though.

    2. This is what I don’t get. I have yet to see a young-ish libertarian come out and run on a stance that will steal the youth base.

      Legalize pot and end the drug war.
      Support gay marriage (plus 2+ marriages)
      Decriminalize sex-work
      Fight for internet freedom
      Less war
      Safe but non-state-sponsored abortions
      Sschool choice
      Negative income tax
      Make immigration safer and easier to spend our resources on stoping bad guys from getting in

      Partner all this with language about the Sharing Economy, New Mutualism and use that to speak primarily about the free market and you have a winner.

      Throw a beard or some tattoos on your candidate, and I really believe the Democrats will be the ones panicking about a “spoiler.” And THEN we will have a real L.P. moment.

      1. Because, unless they are very, very careful, the media will ask questions on other topics and it only takes one bad soundbite to turn off a lot of voters.

        Furthermore, there are many people of all ages opposed to one or more of your chosen planks, and some of them are single-issue voters, or at least place a high degree of importance on those points of disagreement.

        1. No doubt.

          I am not at all suggesting that this individual could actually WIN, for crying out loud. The chance a card-carying libertarian will win a signficant federal election is — equal to the chance of blindly throwing a tennis ball out of a plane window in the middle of the pacific and hitting long lost cousin you didn’t know existed standing on a boat you didn’t know was there.

          That said, it would change the perception of the L.P. away from BIG MONEY to personal freedom. That is step one. If the conversation isn’t going your way, change the conversation. If you don’t like the rules, change the game. Put the Ds on the defensive. (And I am talking about all the Ds, not just the Dems. There are repub Ds too.)

      2. Nice in theory, but the millenials that reason prattles on about that I’ve talked to in my forays to my local tavern are clueless as to the fiscal nightmare they will face a few decades down the road when I’ll be feeding daisies.

        I’ve asked a few would you rather have the 15 per cent that social security takes from you and your employer in an account with your name on it or in the system that exists. They look at me with befuddlement, most millenials are fucking clueless as are most kids in their twenties since time began, myself included as I was very left at that time. Life happens and knowledge is aquired, we can only hope these kids will figure it out..Given that statists control the schools, I’m doubtful.

      3. Libertarian youth candidates are focused mostly on local and non-partisan appointive office at this time. Thanks for the comment.

        For info on what world Libertarians are doing, see the Libertarian International Organization.

        1. “The Libertarian International Organization is a Libertarian transnational network and advisory body of the rights movement, focused on progressive citizenship (SMILE agenda) initiatives.”


          So FOAD, slaver

    3. In Florida at least, I think they have made inroads with Democrats. This isn’t based on anything concrete, but instead, on the belief that it seems implausible that Rick Scott would be polling at 55% in the absence of Wyllie. It’s also possible that voters are somewhat equally disgusted the R and D candidates in this case, and are looking for a viable alternative, without really digging too deeply into core libertarian positions.
      Regardless of the reason, it’s encouraging to see. It could lead to more people looking into issues and getting the impression that they won’t be “throwing their vote away” by voting for the L candidate.

  4. The FSP is electing both Rs and Ds to the NH state house.

  5. This is a good story. But it should be corrected to show that Chad Monnin is running for the Ohio legislature, not for Congress. He is running for state house, 19th district.

    1. Thanks, it has been corrected.

    2. It should be noted that Monnin has been quoted in the Columbus Dispatch as saying that he is “95% Republican”. Though I am the Democrat in the race, I was a member and leader in the Libertarian Party of Ohio for 7 years, and successfully lobbied the Ohio House to pass a constitutional ballot access bill in 2008 (which died in the Senate).

  6. A banner year for Libertarians = a few percentage points higher at the polls.

    A banner year for Libertarians = An even-bigger-banner-year for Democrats.

    Not voicing any judgments about this, but it is the effect.

  7. So I guess the LP is set to win a race?


    Alrighty, then. Back to not having an LP moment.

  8. Yeah the real way to advance your FREEDOMZZ cause is by throwing your support behind every war-mongering socon like Rick Santorum that you can find.

    1. Eh, it’s a pain in the ass when the LP runs candidates against people like Rand Paul for God knows what reason. I’ve voted for the LP in more national elections than I can hope to recount (I’m damn well not voting for McCain or the shitbird Rs they put to run against Grijalva (D)), and I haven’t voted for a major party in the Presidential elections since ~1984, but you’ve got to be kidding yourself if you think LP is anything other than a protest vote. The LP’s chance to be a major political party is about the same as my chances of banging Scarlett Johanssen.

      1. IIRC, Noodlez is a progtard. He thinks we’re just Republicans who like pot.

    2. Name one self-identified libertarian who supported Santorum. Just one. I’m betting you can’t.

  9. If the Republicans are so worried about Libertarian Party candidates spoiling elections for them, they could propose reform of the voting system, which they might actually be able to accomplish with all those national and state office holders they keep boasting about having.

    1. “propose reform of the voting system”

      And give up their crooked corporate money or their racist voter ID laws. Yeah, right. Get real.

      1. There is nothing racist about voter ID laws, you stupid parrot. Das Leftoids only call it racist because it might throw a wrench into their voter fraud machine.

      2. racist voter ID laws

        So “people of color” are too stupid to be able to get a state-sponsored ID card?

        Who’s the racist* here?

        *The concept of “race” is a totally made-up, bullshit, un-scientific term and the sooner it goes away, the better mankind will be.

        … Hobbit

      3. I heard yesterday that a poll indicates 70% support voter ID laws. The support among Democrats is 55%.…
        So are you saying that 70% of all people and 55% of Democrats are racist? Do you have any support for that claim or are you talking out of your ass? Or are you trying to impose your minority will on the majority? Maybe the general populace is just too stupid to think for themselves and you feel you know better. That would be typical of people of your claimed political preference.

  10. “A Libertarian Party Moment?” NEWS FLASH! There is no libertarian party moment. There is no libertarian moment. Libertarians are a small minority. There are a few, very few, members of TEAM red who are courting libertarians and some who are related to Libertarians. Rand is proving to be more TEAM red than libertarian.

    When the number of people who self identify as Libertarian exceeds TEAM red of blue, then declare the moment. In the mean time, SHUT THE FUCK UP about this! This is getting to be embarrassing. Oh and please, no more polling of the bed wetter generation a.k.a. the millenials.

    Lastly, get the fuck off my lawn.

    1. Can’t I PLEASE just pick some dandelions for a little bit?

  11. Minor parties can have a big effect on policy without winning elections. The Prohibition Party spoiled two presidential elections for the Republicans, 1884 and 1916. After the 1884 election, Republicans burned the Prohibitionist candidate for president in effigy all over the north, and the Kansas county that had been named for him (St. John County) changed its name. But after it happened again in 1916, the Republicans in Congress decided to pass the Prohibition constitutional amendment, which had been sitting in congress since 1875 and had never made any headway. They were sick of losing presidential elections. It passed Congress in the 1917 and was sent to the states.

  12. ” Libertarians were ahead of their time on an important issue.”

    Hi Brian,

    Want me to name a dozen high profile Leftists that we’re for drug legalization in the 1980s?

    About this libertarian moment… this moment means that the libertarian party is now polling between the margins between each candidate? That’s like 5%–in one state, correct? That’s a good showing for libertarians? What’s a poor showing like?

    1. “Want me to name a dozen high profile Leftists that we’re for drug legalization in the 1980s?”

      Oh, you mean back when William F. Buckley was, too? Yeah, cutting edge thought there.

      If you’re implying that we libertarians ‘stole’ their issues, you’re wrong. Leftists have never been about freedom; any time they have been, it’s been merely incidental to their more overriding concerns.

    2. Lefties are certainly out in front on the issue of shredding the First Amendment:

      The amendment Democratic leaders proposed would have given Congress and state legislatures the ability to set “reasonable” limits on how much candidates could raise and spend during their campaigns and to enact outright bans on interest groups that wish to use their money to influence elections.

      The amendment would overturn the First Amendment’s protection of free speech as interpreted by the Supreme Court.

      Get thee behind me, Prog.

    3. AmericanSocialist:

      The world Left essentially created the drug war in the 1970’s. The USSR executed people for drugs until its fall. This remains policy in China, though much reformed thanks to the large contingent of Libertarians there.

      Libertarians are increasingly holding the balance of power in the US. It’s increasingly impossible to win elections without their support.

  13. If you consider yourself a Rand Paul libertarian, then you’re not a libertarian.

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