Libertarian Party

The 3 Libertarian Senate Candidates Most Likely to Be Called 'Spoilers'

L.P. contenders in Indiana, Nevada, and Missouri are beating the spread between Democrats and Republicans. Gary Johnson is right behind them.


A man and his (friend's) truck. ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

Unless Oumuamua suddenly returns with some reinforcements, it's looking like none of the 17 Libertarian candidates for the United States Senate will make history by raising the gold flag in a chamber too long dominated by red and blue.

Gary Johnson may have gotten shivved last week with a damning poll that, uh, didn't include his name (see below), but throwing that survey out still leaves the former New Mexico governor averaging 16 percent across five independent polls, compared to 45 percent for Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich, and 27 percent for Republican Mick Rich. While I am genuinely grateful for Johnson's succinct pitch to millennials—"Young people are getting fucked"—it's looking once again like that message is not the magic key for unlocking electoral victory.

But that doesn't mean there aren't important things at stake today for the party, for the broader political/philosophical tendency it shares a name with, and for the country more generally. (See also Joe Setyon's, "Control of the Senate Could Depend on These 10 Races.") With a Senate that caucuses 51-49 GOP, surging anti-Republican enthusiasm, voters streaming to the polls, yet electoral math that keeps the smart money at or even above that 51-49 split, there is a lot of potential major-party anger ready to be unleashed at any third-party candidate who receives more votes than the gap between Democrats and Republicans.

So here are those 17 Libertarian candidates for U.S. Senate ranked by their own polling average (in nonpartisan surveys) minus the average point spread between the major-party contenders in those same polls. Whenever given the option, I chose results among likely voters rather than registered voters. For your convenience, you can also find projections for each race, the latest poll (when possible; some Libertarian candidates never did get polled, in which case I ranked them here according to the eyeball test), plus other scattered notes of interest.

1) Lucy Brenton, Indiana, +4.2

D Joe Donnelly (incumbent) 43.5%, R Mike Braun 41.8%, Brenton 5.9% (8 polls)

Last poll: Donnelly 45%, Braun 38%, Brenton 5%, other 2%, undecided 9% (Oct. 27-30 Fox News, which one month prior had the percentages at 43-41-6-2-9).

Forecast: "Toss-up," according to eight out of the 10 prognosticators aggregated by Wikipedia's 2018 U.S. Senate elections page, with one "Lean R" and one "Lean D." FiveThirtyEight projects 50.6%-46.9%-2.5%, and the betting markets aggregator Election Betting Odds (run by our own John Stossel and Maxim Lott) gives Donnelly a razor-thin 51%-49% advantage as of this morning.

Democrats over the past week have been advertising Brenton's conservative bona fides to Republican voters, in a bid to split the right-of-center vote. The gamble may be working—Brenton's inclusion in an August Marist College poll reduced Donnelly's lead from six percentage points to three, but that same survey in late October measured the Libertarian effect as a net +1 for the Democrat. The president, for one, is not amused:

2) Tim Hagan, Nevada, +2.8

D Jacky Rosen 44.0%, R Dean Heller (I) 43.2%, Hagan 3.6% (5 polls)

Last poll: Rosen 48%, Heller 45%, Hagan 2%, none of the above (which is on the ballot in Nevada) 4%, undecided 1% (Oct. 24-29 CNN/SSRS, which a month prior had the percentages at 47-43-4-5-1).

Forecast: 8/10 Toss-up, 1 Lean D, 1 Tilt D. FiveThirtyEight classifies it a toss-up, though projects a Rosen squeaker of 49.3%-48.3%, with 2.5% for "others." Election Betting Odds lists 62.5% for Rosen.

3) Japheth Campbell, Missouri, +0.7

D Claire McCaskill (I) 44.3%, R Josh Hawley 43%, Campbell 2%, Green Party's Jo Crain 1.4% (8 polls)

Last poll: McCaskill 47%, Hawley 44%, Campbell 3%, Crain 2%, undecided 4% (Oct. 30-Nov. 1 Marist College, which three months prior had the percentages at 44-40-5-3-8; Marist this cycle has consistently polled third-party candidates higher than any other independent researcher).

Forecast: 8/10 Toss-up, 1 Lean R, 1 Tilt R. FiveThirtyEight has it a toss-up, though projects McCaskill holding on at 49.2%-48.1%, with 2.6% other. Election Betting Odds says Hawley 60%.

Just one last caper before they retired for good. ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

4) Gary Johnson, New Mexico, -2.2

D Martin Heinrich (I) 45.3%, R Mick Rich 26.8%, Johnson 16.3% (6 polls*)

Last poll: Heinrich 47%, Rich 33%, Johnson 11%, undecided 9% (Nov. 1-3 Research Co.).

Forecast: 9/10 Safe D, 1 Likely D. FiveThirtyEight predicts 51.8%-31.6%-14.6%. Election Betting Odds likes Heinrich 96.5%.

* I didn't include in this poll-average the survey that came out last week from Carroll Strategies showing Johnson at just 8 percent. Why? Because Johnson's name had been mistakenly swapped out for that of the previous L.P. nominee for that swap, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn. A chastened Carroll Strategies then got right back in the field with Johnson's name, and produced strikingly similar results. Color me skeptical.

Johnson, who entered this race with an idea to win the damn thing outright, is still polling much higher than any Libertarian Senate candidate, and will likely become the fifth L.P. Senate candidate to get double digits at the polls.

5) Neal Dikeman, Texas, -3.4

R Ted Cruz (I) 46.7%, D Beto O'Rourke 42%, Dikeman 1.3% (6 polls)

Last poll: Cruz 50%, O'Rourke 47%, Dikeman 1%, undecided 2% (Oct. 28-30, Emerson College).

Forecast: 6/10 Lean R, Likely R & Toss-up 2. FiveThirtyEight projects 51.7%-46.8%-1.5%. Election Betting Odds says Cruz 77.5%.

6) Rusty Hollen, West Virginia, -3.5

D Joe Manchin (I) 47.5%, R Patrick Morrissey 39%, Hollen 5.3% (4 polls)

Last poll: Manchin 47%, Morrissey 42%, Hollen 3%, undecided 8% (Oct. 28-31, Emerson College).

Forecast: 8/10 Lean D, 1 Tilt D & Likely D. FiveThirtyEight projects 52.5%-45%-2.5%. Election Betting Odds likes Manchin 78.5%.

7) Murray Sabrin, New Jersey, -5.3

D Robert Menendez (I) 48.3%, R Bob Hugin 40.7%, Sabrin 2.3% (3 polls)

Last poll: Menendez 51%, Hugin 39%, Sabrin 3%, other 4%, undecided 1% (Oct. 25-31, Stockton University, which two months prior had the percentages at 45-43-3-5-2).

Forecast: 6/10 Lean D, 3 Likely D, 1 Toss-up. FiveThirtyEight projects 54.2%-42.7%, with 3.1% other. Election Betting Odds prefers Menendez 83.5%.

8) Rick Breckenridge, Montana, -6

D Jon Tester (I) 48.8%, R Matt Rosendale 40.2%, Breckenridge 2.6% (4 polls)

Last poll: Rosendale 49%, Tester 46%, Breckenridge 3% (Nov. 2-4, Change Research).

Forecast: 4/10 Toss-up & Lean D, 2 Lean D. FiveThirtyEight projects 51.1%-46.4%-2.5%. Election Betting Odds says Tester 64%.

Breckenridge went wobbly at the finish line of this one, telling reporters last week that he "endorsed" his Republican opponent, but then explaining to Reason's Brian Doherty that he was not dropping out, and really just meant it on the narrow issue of going after "dark money" in politics. The Montana Libertarian Party then issued an extraordinary statement saying that many party members "feel betrayed by Breckenridge's statement," after which the candidate walked back his initial comments, and now the damned thing is being adjudicated at Snopes.

Whatever; he's still on the ballot, though it's hard to see the shenanigans helping Breckenridge's final numbers.

9) Bruce Jaynes, Ohio, -11

D Sherrod Brown (I) 49%, R Jim Renacci 35%, Jaynes 4%, G Philena Farley 2% (1 poll). Jaynes and Farley are write-in candidates.

Forecast: 7/10 Likely D, 2 Safe D, 1 Lean D. FiveThirtyEight projects 55.7%-44.3%, Election Betting Odds says Brown 88.5%.

10) Jim Schultz, Nebraska, -12ish

R Deb Fischer (I) 54%, D Jane Raybould 39%, Schultz unpolled (1 poll)

Forecast: 9/10 Safe R, 1 Likely R. FiveThirtyEight projects 56%-41.1%-3%; Election Betting Odds has it at Fischer 96.5%.

11) Matt Waters, Virginia, -14

D Tim Kaine (I) 50.7%, R Corey Stewart 32%, Waters 4.7% (3 polls)

Last poll: Kaine 52%, Stewart 36%, Waters 5%, other 0%, undecided 4% (Sept. 4-9, University of Mary Washington/SSRS).

Forecast: 9/10 Safe D, 1 Likely D. FiveThirtyEight projects 56.9%-41.1%-2%; Election Betting Odds likes Kaine 93%.

12) Dale Kerns, Pennsylvania, -14.8

D Bob Casey, Jr. (I) 50%, R Lou Barletta 33.8%, G Neal Gale 1.6%, Kerns 1.4%, (5 polls)

Last poll: Casey 51%, Barletta 44%, Gale 2%, Kerns 1% (Nov. 2-4, Change Research).

Forecast: 6/10 Likely D, 4 Safe D. FiveThirtyEight projects 54.9%-43.4%, 1.7% other. Election Betting Odds says Casey 92%.

13) Danny Bedwell, Mississippi, -15.7

R Roger Wicker (I) 52.7%, D David Baria 34.3%, Bedwell 2.7%, Ref. Shawn O'Hara 2% (3 polls)

Last poll: Wicker 48%, Baria 40%, Bedwell 5%, O'Hara 3% (Nov. 2-4, Change Research).

Forecast: 9/10 Safe R, 1 Likely R. FiveThirtyEight projects 56.8%-41.1%, 2.1% other.

14) Richard Lion, Connecticut, -18ish

D Chris Murphy (I) 56.5%, R Matthew Corey 36.8%, Lion (unpolled), G Jeff Russell & SA Mitch Linck (also unpolled). (6 polls)

Forecast: 9/10 Safe D, 1 Likely D. FiveThirtyEight projects 59.8%-38.4%, 1.8% other.

15) Craig Bowden, Utah, -30.5

R Mitt Romney 57%, D Jenny Wilson 24%, C Tim Aalders 3%, Bowden 2.5%, IA Reed McCandless 2.5% (2 polls)

Forecast: 9/10 Safe R, 1 Likely R. FiveThirtyEight projects 59%-29.6%, with 11.5% other.

16) Nadine Frost, Delaware, -34

D Tom Carper (I) 61%, R Rob Arlett 24%, Frost 3%, G Demetri Theodoropoulos 3% (1 poll)

Forecast: 9/10 Safe D, 1 Likely D. FiveThirtyEight projects 62.1%-35.2%, with 2.7% other.

17) Arvin Vohra, Maryland, -38

D Ben Cardin (I) 56%, R Tony Campbell 17%, I Neal Simon 8%, Vohra 1% (1 poll)

Forecast: 9/10 Safe D, 1 Likely D. FiveThirtyEight projects 65.2%-29.8%, with 5% other.

Bonus video for those who have made it this far down: