Election 2020

The 5 (Mostly Libertarian) Candidates Who Might Get Blamed for Tipping Control of the Senate

Lindsey Graham just dodged a third-party bullet, but there are a handful of other tossup Senate races where third-party candidates could exceed the major candidates' margin.


On Thursday afternoon, the third-party candidate with arguably the single greatest chance of being labeled a "spoiler" in battle to control the U.S. Senate abruptly dropped out to endorse his embattled competitor, the reliably anti-libertarian Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.).

"President Trump has asked that conservatives stand together and reelect Lindsey Graham in order to help make America great again, and I agree," Constitution Party nominee Bill Bledsoe explained in a statement.

Bledsoe, a veterinarian, ran for Senate in 2016 under both the Constitution Party and Libertarian Party banners, winning 1.8 percent of the vote. He averaged 3.5 percent in the two polls this year on which his name appeared. (Deep-funded Democratic challenger Jamie Harrison averaged 44.5 percent, compared to Graham's 44 percent.) The race is projected by nine of 10 prognosticators to be at least leaning Republican, with the tenth calling it even.

The pressure on nonconformist candidates and voters alike to join the Manichean political war of 2020 is intense, contributing to significantly lower support for independent and third-party candidates over the past two years. While the headline focus in our presidentially obsessed culture is on how this flight from experimentation affects the contest for the White House, the fact is that even after Bledsoe's abdication, several independent and third-party campaigns have the potential to affect one of the most difficult-to-predict political questions in the country right now: Which of the two major parties will have control of the Senate in 2021?

The GOP currently holds a slim 53–45 advantage in the upper chamber (with the two independents caucusing with Democrats), but prognosticators unanimously see that margin shrinking or even reversing after the election for 35 seats this November. FiveThirtyEight currently gives Democrats a 63 percent chance of winning a majority.

Eight of the 10 forecasting agencies Wikipedia collects on its Senate elections page project the parties to be either tied or within one seat of each other after the dust from the election settles. With nine individual races at or near "tossup" status, look for a mixture of arm-twisting and backroom sweeteners to persuade potential spoilers to pull a Bledsoe.

Here are five Senate races where third-party candidates are likeliest to receive more votes than the margin between the Democrat and Republican. They are ranked by the percentage-point distance between their own polling numbers and the top-two gap, with the usual caveats that there frequently aren't many polls and that third-party candidates routinely undershoot their pre-election projections.

1) Shannon Bray (L), North Carolina, +0.9.

Field, polling percentages: Cal Cunningham (D), 42.6; Thom Tillis (R, incumbent), 40.5; Bray, 3.0; Kevin Hayes (Constitution), 1.6; other/not voting/undecided, 12.3 (14 polls).

Forecast: Six out of 10 election forecasters classify this race as a tossup; three say leans toward the Democrats; one says it's a likely Dem win. Analyzes Vox's Dylan Scott: "Everybody I spoke to expects an extraordinarily tight Senate race. The outcome could very well decide which party controls the Senate in 2021, going by the Sabato's Crystal Ball ratings. Assuming Democrats lose in the Alabama Senate race but win in Arizona, Colorado, and Maine—which forecasters say is a fairly likely scenario—then they just need a win in either North Carolina or Iowa. With one of those toss-up states, by Sabato's reckoning, Democrats can secure 50 Senate seats."

Know your "spoiler": Bray is a Navy vet who currently works in cybersecurity for the Defense Department. He is campaigning on the cybersecurity issue, plus improving health care for veterans and fighting for "equal rights under the law for all American citizens."

2) Shane Hazel (L), Georgia, +0.3.

Field, polling percentages: David Perdue (R, incumbent), 46.0; Jon Ossoff (D, 42.6); Hazel, 3.9; other/not voting/undecided, 7.6 (7 polls).

Forecast: Five of 10 outfits say the race leans toward the Republican; four say it's a tossup. "A sure sign the outcome is in doubt," reported the Athens Banner-Herald on September 18, "is how much the candidates and the national super PACs backing them are spending to bomb the airwaves, to the dismay of political ad-weary TV viewers. Total TV/radio ad spending in the race, including future bookings, is now more than $83.4 million." An important note: Georgia requires runoffs if no candidate wins a majority, which means (as University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock told the Banner-Herald), "We may not know which party controls the Senate until January."

Know your "spoiler": Hazel is a former Marine and current podcaster who wants to "#EndTheWars," "#EndTheFed," and "#EndTheEmpire." Mission statement: "[T]o bring people together while preserving the freedom of every individual, regardless of skin color, age, faith, gender, love and every other nuance which make us unique. We must come together and remove the government/corporate cabals from the lives of peaceful people here in the US and around the world."

3) Lisa Savage (i), Maine, 0.0. (Max Linn, another independent, is right behind at -0.6.)

Field, polling percentages: Sara Gideon (D), 44.2; Susan Collins (R, incumbent), 41.6; Savage, 2.6; Linn 2.0; other/not voting/undecided, 9.8 (5 polls).

Forecast: Six out of 10 agencies rate this one a tossup, others are "likely" or "lean" Democrat. BUT THERE'S A TWIST. Maine will at long last this year use ranked choice voting in a federal race, which means that if no candidate wins a plurality, the low man/woman will be tossed out, with his/her votes redistributed based on who those voters listed as their second choice. This process will be repeated for as long as it takes for someone to win a majority.

Know your "spoilers": Savage, a teacher and grandmother from rural Maine, is a Green in everything but name. "I believe we deserve a government that works for us, not the big banks, weapons manufacturers, fossil fuel giants and corporate lobbyists who are calling the shots in Washington," she told Ballotpedia. Linn, an eccentric, Trumpy financial planner who has mounted runs for office previously as a Republican, a Democrat, and a member of the Reform Party, favors a five-year ban on all immigration; he answered a recent debate question about coronavirus policy by theatrically cutting up a mask.

4) Rick Stewart (L), Iowa, -0.3.

Field, polling percentages: Theresa Greenfield (D), 45.7; Joni Ernst (R, incumbent), 43.7; Stewart, 1.7; Suzanne Herzog (i), 1.0; other/not voting/undecided, 7.3 (3 polls).

Forecast: All 10 election prognosticators rate Ernst's re-election bid as a tossup. The Washington Post says: "So far, $155 million has been spent in Iowa on the Senate race alone. The TV is filled with dark messages of political rot. Greenfield, the daughter of a crop-duster, has raised more money than Ernst. She is wearing well, attracting 10 percent of voters who supported Trump four years ago."

Know your "spoiler": Stewart, a former cop, retired entrepreneur, and Calvin Coolidge aficionado, ran against Ernst in 2014 as an independent, earning 2.4 percent of the vote to her 52.1 percent. (Libertarian Douglas Butzier got 0.7 percent.) As a Libertarian, he won 26.2 percent of the vote in a losing contest for Linn County sheriff, and he got 3 percent in 2018 when running for secretary of agriculture. He is campaigning to "End all wars" (including "the racist Drug War"), "end all economic nonsense," and "keep government simple."

5) John Wayne Howe (Alaskan Independence Party), Alaska, +/-?

The question mark is there because Howe, a Ron Swansonesque machinist who wants to eliminate taxes, privatize public land, and make government functions voluntary, has not yet been included in any poll against the Republican incumbent Dan Sullivan and the Democrat-backed independent challenger Al Gross.

Alaska is traditionally one of the most third-party-friendly terrains, and non-major-party candidates have received at least 6 percent combined in every election for this Senate seat since 1996. As for the 2020 race, seven out of 10 forecasters rate the headline race a likely Republican win and two say it leans R, but there is a tossup forecast in there too.

And Howe is a real humdinger: "The government—federal, state, borough, city—all are thieves. Even when the spending comes from a vote of the people it is stealing, the only difference is those that voted for spending are now also guilty. How do we fund government without theft?"

NEXT: Election 2000: The Last Holiday-from-History Election

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  1. The last guy gets it. You know if the feds sold off all that juicy public land they could make a dent in their deficit drug habit. It would only be temporary when tax and spend liberal assholes fuck it up again. Cause Socialism is cool sez the young people.

    1. Philosophically, yes. But every citizen of Alaska gets a cut of the oil from state owned land. Selling that land to a corporation will be a hard sell. Lots of other libertarian ideals to put to the forefront that would get more votes. So, another autistic Libertarian playing a game.

      1. Libertarianism, as practiced and presented, seems to insistent on missing the forest for the trees.
        Completely incapable of seeing the big picture.
        So who cares if we empower the wholly totalitarian left, because the right is also icky.
        It’s like saying it doesn’t matter if you get a papercut or severed femoral artery, because they’re both lacerations.

        1. That’s a good analogy, except for the spread between the two wounds. If it really were a question of accepting either a paper cut or severed femoral artery, I know I would probably prepare myself for the paper cut. But it’s more like choosing between a ruptured aorta or severed femoral artery.

          On any of the issues I care about: ending the various wars and foreign involvements other than trade, ending the drug war, decriminalizing all victimless crimes, busting police unions and rescinding qualified immunity, and massively CUTTING FUCKING SPENDING—there is no choice.

          You can’t convince me a $22 trillion debt is a femoral artery bleed out, but a $21.3 trillion debt is just a painful but non-bleeding paper cut.

          Let’s be honest with ourselves. As long as the choice is limited to two terrible ones, the bloody shitshow will just continue bleeding and stinking up everything.

          1. Thanks for proving my point.
            Completely irrational

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          2. The thing is, the $21.3 trillion non-bleeding paper cut comes with a bandage, some antibiotic ointment, and a supply of rubber page turners so it doesn’t happen again.

            The $22 trillion femoral artery bleed out comes with a mandatory chainsaw juggling class.

    2. Haven’t seen the Republicans do a damned thing about spending in decades. They think it’s a major cut when all their doing is asking for only half the increases the Democrats are. Pathetic.

      1. Yes you are.
        But, sure, go ahead and demand utopia. It’ll totes comfort you on the way to the trains.

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  2. If the Graham campaign was so worried about the Democrat winning, maybe they should have withdrawn and endorsed the third party candidate.

  3. Maybe the disrespect shown Ron Paul at past GOP conventions is coming home to roost?

    1. Maybe you’re having fever dreams?

  4. So if I am libertarian, do I vote for the party of Gorsuch and Barrett or a court packed with Ginsburgs?

    Yeah, I’m being selective in my memory.

    1. You vote for the party that wants to make SCOTUS far more irrelevant in people’s lives, so it doesn’t really matter all that much if the court is full of Ginsburg’s or Gorsuch’s.

      1. So… the Constitution Party? Because Libertarians have backed the left wing of the court in literally every case besides Kelo since the inception of the party in 1972, and want to continue using the court for radical Marxist social policymaking that they can’t get passed legislatively. Nothing Libertarians love more than activist courts and unitary executives.

        Of course it’s irrelevant for you since you’re a Canadian living in your mother’s basement, cytotoxic.

        1. Yes, “radical Marxist social policymaking” like not throwing a guy in jail for smoking a joint. So radical. So Marxist.

          1. Those nazis make a great cake, they can’t be all bad.

            You know you’re a joke when you can’t even say one bad word and instead deflect to hide their bad actions.

            But please, tell us how the Shame Walks under the Red Guard were done in the name of liberty. Because that’s the level of bullshit the anti racist, post modern wing of the left is getting to. But you can’t criticize them because you’d have to say something bad about the left.

          2. Which Supreme Court case was it that made throwing a guy in jail for smoking a joint illegal? I can’t recall that one and look forward to your citation.

            1. Gonzales v. Raich

  5. If only some reddish states imitated Maine.

    I presume that ranked-choice voting will end up putting the votes of lefty greenies (“watermelons” if you will) into the scale in favor of the Democrats.

    If they did that in South Carolina, then voters who are actual conservatives would be able to vote for the Constitution Party guy and then use Graham as a backup vote, perhaps saving the state from the Democrats while registering the sentiment that Graham is strictly a second choice.

    1. Voting innovations such as Ranked Choice Voting can only be good for the liberty movement as far as I can see.

      1. Right, but that’s because you’re a really stupid Marxist piece of shit whose only concern is advancing the agenda of the Marxist Democratic party. It’s going to be fun watching the streets run red with the blood and entrails of your LARPing compatriots. Good thing you’ll be hiding in your mom’s basement in the Greater Toronto Area.

        1. You seem angry.

          1. LMFAO. Go tub your micropenis to Garrett Foster and get ready for the bloodbath, cytotoxic.

      2. I disagree. I think that particularly in primaries rank choice would produce better candidates for all parties.

  6. In my opinion, no real libertarian would run when running is likely to flip control of the Senate to the party that supports Antifa and BLM terrorist thugs.

    1. Nonsense

    2. This is ridiculous. If Republicans want libertarian votes then they should actually care about issues of liberty rather than just paying them lip service. Being less bad than the Democrats isn’t enough to earn my vote.

      The best thing that could happen in this election is for LP candidates to play spoiler in a bunch of elections. Maybe the Republicans will wake up and realize what they’ve become.

      1. Gorsuch? Lowered taxes? No new wars? Troop reduction? Lowered regulations?

        What have they ever done that would be good for a libertarian.. hmm.

        1. No new wars? LOL… We’re talking about Republicans, not Trump.
          Medicare part D. The Patriot Act. No child left behind. TARP (freaking TARP!). Tariffs. Massive farm bailouts. Massive defense spending. Massive budget deficits. Renewing the Patriot Act. Bump stock bans.

          They couldn’t even muster the votes to repeal Obamacare, after they ran on that very thing.

          The Republicans aren’t the party of small government. They’re the party of less big government.

          1. You deserve the totalitarian leftism you ignore, or are incapable of seeing, and the consequences of such blind insistence on irrationality.

      2. Exactly, republicans left the party of small government. They left me.

        1. oh brother

      3. Republicans already have Libertarian votes. Trump is the most Libertarian-ish president in over 100 years.

        unreason is trying to cover that the “libertarians” they are mentioning are not Libertarians at all.

        Not every libertarian will vote for Trump but a Libertarian would never want a Democrat in control of government.

        1. Thank mystical bigots like Teedy Rosenfeld, William Jennings Bryan, Woody Wilson, Warren Gamaliel Harding and Herbert Moratorium-on-Brains Hoover for handing power to the Dems instead of legalizing beer. Biden, Reagan and Bushes did more to wreck the economy by pushing asset forfeiture and death for plant leaves than all the card-carrying communists in the entire New Deal. THAT is why a trump seems OK by comparison. He doesn’t urge people to fire rifles at women’s clinics… at least, not yet.

    3. And what makes you think that the modern ‘Libertarian’ Party would allow an actual libertarian to run for anything?

  7. They mostly come out to ruin elections… mostly…

    1. Why don’t we put her in charge?

  8. Mission statement: “[T]o bring people together while preserving the freedom of every individual, regardless of skin color, age, faith, gender, love and every other nuance which make us unique. We must come together and remove the government/corporate cabals from the lives of peaceful people here in the US and around the world.”

    That’s beautiful.

    1. Then why do you support anti racist movements that want to treat everyone based on their skin color?

      1. And are 100% intent on using government force to dictate every aspect of people’s lives.

        1. https://www.KeepAmericaAmerica.com

          What is it about America that so bothers leftists? Is it racism? No, it’s freedom.

      2. Why are you a white supremacist, Jesse?

  9. the-every-selection-cycle-idiotic-Reason-article-on-how-Ls-will-ever-so-change-results….wash rinse repeat every election cycle…
    how about something new, guys?

    1. Georgia is over-represented in the Reason comment section, yet the L candidate can only muster 0.3% polling.
      Makes sense.

      1. The guy is a communist anarchist infiltrator, and dumb enough to be proud of it. Read his stuff on ballotpedia and you’ll see he confuses freedom from coercion with legalizing murder and arson.

  10. Not another matt welch beto boner.

    Republicans are keeping control of the US Senate. In fact they are gaining GOP senator count.

    Lefties will say anything to hope and wish the Democrat Party not going away.

  11. I will be glad when December (or maybe January, February or March) rolls around and this election is behind us for a couple of years. I am worn out.

    1. This election will never really be over, unless possibly if the Ds are just completely crushed.
      Because if they aren’t, they will try to burn it all down… as they’ve told us.
      And if they win power, we’ll go the route of Bolshevik Russia, Nazi Germany, Red China, and Maduro’s Venezuela.
      This is not hyperbole.
      The left is completely psychotic; fanatical zealots whose only goal is collectivist totalitarianism.

      1. I used the wrong word above.
        It’s not “win power”, it’s “seize power”

      2. Another mystical fascist out to prove that Positive Christian genocide is altruistic and goood, while commie atheist genocide is “not really” altruistic, but rather, selfish and baaad. None of these creeps can get halfway through Atlas Shrugged for fear of Thoughtcrime leading them to Hellfire and Damnation. Yet they are sent here to lecture us on how Hitler is Christ.

  12. [T]o bring people together while preserving the freedom of every individual, regardless of skin color, age, faith, gender, love and every other nuance which make us unique.

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  13. So Libertarian’s goal is to put Cryin Chuck in charge of the Senate. And Leahy in charge of the Judiciary Committee

  14. Happy to see Lindsey Graham having so much trouble that he need the Libertarian to drop out. I think it speak to the Senator’s awful behavior in the last few years. It might be time to let someone with principles run.

  15. Endless prognostication from the same pollsters who have been consistently wrong more often than right in the last dozen or so elections. Tell us again why anyone should pay attention to their predictions this time?

    I am rapidly realizing that I am a political agnostic. I don’t know who’s going to win the election and you don’t either. Stop wasting your time trying. (And stop baiting me into reading these worthless articles.)

    1. Democrats know they will lose to Trump being reelected.

  16. Sigh! I remember when Reason was the voice of libertarianism. Doesn’t look that way from the commenters anymore.

    1. There are still some of Libertarians around.

      unreason has left Libertarianism forever.

      Maybe they will try to come back after Trump wins reelection.

  17. I’ve never understood why we Libertarians are supposed to care if our guy beats the margin between the other two. So what? Bragging about that only serves to support the “spoiler” or “wasted vote” arguments.

    1. People Flaco on math have trouble with algebra. But campaign bosses understand perfectly that when their looter loses thanks to a growing outside party, it’s time to change the platform or say goodbye to boodle, pelf, confiscated cocaine, bribes, kickbacks and the power to send union cops out to kill people. No looter gives a rat’s ass for freedom or rights, but will pretend to if that’s what it takes to not get tossed out on his ear. See “Why voting Libertarian works” at Libertariantranslator. Spoiler votes multiply law-changing clout.

      1. I just read it. It’s interesting, and the Ram Johnston videos are funny. But look at the current presidential race. I don’t see either of them doing much to try to recapture the votes of Libertarians.

  18. On a hunch I looked up one of Matt’s bootlickees. Hazel could be a good candidate but for the Bubba the Whack tendency of letting communist anarchists define government for him. The communist reaction to objectivist libertarianism is to this day the fallback reductio ad absurdum that works just fine against superstitious fascists. But in the Libertarian competition world it only proves that one of us (the faction that repels voters and cannot form its own communist anarchist party) is peopled by idiots or saboteurs.

  19. Democrat Jaime Harrison is breathing down Lindsey Graham’s neck in South Carolina. Sadly, there’s no Libertarian spoiler for Republicans to blame if he loses his Senate seat.

  20. “Bray is a Navy vet who currently works in cybersecurity for the Defense Department. He is campaigning on the cybersecurity issue, plus improving health care for veterans and fighting for “equal rights under the law for all American citizens.”

    Huh? In the future, the LP of NC needs to find better candidates than those who apparently see no problem with taking taxpayer funds and creating more government “rights”.

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