To take control of the Senate this November, Republicans need a net gain of six Senate seats to take control of Congress, but third party candidates in North Carolina, Kansas, South Dakota, Georgia, (and sort of Louisiana) may undermine this goal.
In North Carolina, a libertarian pizza deliveryman could determine the race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis. An independent in Kansas is leading the Republican incumbent Pat Roberts in many recent polls, also with a libertarian who could influence the outcome. An independent in South Dakota has introduced uncertainty in what should have been considered an "in the bag" seat for Republicans. A libertarian and tea partier could force both Louisiana and Georgia into a run-off election. Strikingly in Virginia, the Libertarian candidate is capturing more votes than the Republican among young voters.
While it is true third-party candidates typically don't win, serious third party challengers can still identify the major parties' vulnerabilities based on which types of voters they peel away.
For instance, as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) explained, "If people don't like their choices with the Republican candidate or the Democratic candidate, then you're going to see a spurt in third-party candidates, so they can definitely affect outcomes."
Examining third-party influence across the country reveal the pivotal voters tend to exhibit similar patterns: Independents who lean right although sometimes left, often with a libertarian streak, were disillusioned during the GOP primary by establishment candidates earlier this year, and now are less enthusiastic about supporting the major party candidate.
Here are some of the races we examined:
North Carolina Senate
44 percent of the vote. The tight race means that libertarian Sean Haugh garnering 5 percent of the vote among likely voters could impact which party wins the seat. Even if only a portion of his supporters show up, they could influence an election this close.In North Carolina, incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan is in a bitter fight with Republican Thom Tillis, each pulling
Recent shifts in public opinion combined with Hagan's support of the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare had made the North Carolina incumbent vulnerable. Consequently, some observers view libertarian Sean Haugh as part of the reason Republican Thom Tillis isn't leading in the polls. Demonstrating the lopsided enthusiasm, an NBC/Marist poll finds 7 in 10 Kay Hagan supporters "strongly" support her, while only 54 percent of Tillis' can say the same. While a plurality of likely voters (48 percent) say they'd rather vote for a Republican than a Democrat (43 percent) for Congress, this hasn't translated into stronger support for Tillis.
There are several reasons Thom Tillis is scrambling in the final days of the election. First, many grassroots tea party groups and Republicans in the area remain disillusioned since the GOP primary earlier this year when tea party favorite Greg Bannon lost to Tillis. Bannon had appealed to independent-minded libertarian voters in the area, but Tillis has thus far failed to gin up their enthusiasm.
Tea party groups also remain unimpressed with Tillis' candidacy viewing him as not sufficiently fiscally conservative and a "corporatist" who uses government to give special favors to interest groups. Insiders do tend to get this reputation.
Moreover, libertarian Sean Haugh had once registered as a Republican to vote for Ron Paul in 2008, which further bolsters his credentials among a small but very active group of Paul supporters.
Although Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) had previously endorsed Tillis' primary opponent, they have since teamed up on the campaign trail. The fact that Tillis sought out Paul's support provides further indication of what types of potential voters he's most concerned about losing: libertarian leaning, independent-minded voters.
Tea party groups are divided over whether to support Tillis for the hope of taking back the Senate—which they call "clothespin support"—or withholding their support for a RINO republican. By clothespin support, they mean holding their noses as they support a candidate whom they view as the better of two bad options.
successful history of polling Kansas voters, finds Orman at 44 percent and Roberts at 42 percent. Further complicating the race, libertarian candidate Randal Batson is garnering 4 percent of the vote. In a close race like this, the libertarian could again influence who wins.In Kansas the Republican, veteran incumbent Pat Roberts, has found himself in an unexpected and unusual position of potentially losing to an independent. After Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, Roberts found himself once again in two-way race but trailing or barely tying with independent candidate Greg Orman. SurveyUSA, which has a
Similar to North Carolina, grassroots tea party groups and Republicans remain bitter over the GOP primary earlier this year when Roberts defeated their favored candidate Milton Wolf in a closer than expected outcome, 48 to 41 percent. In contrast, Republican Governor Sam Brownback garnered 63 percent of the primary vote.
A significant number of likely Republican voters simply aren't excited about 3-term Senator Pat Roberts for several reasons. Like Tillis, they view Roberts as a so-called establishment Republican who gives special favors to interest groups and compromised principles by voting to raise the debt ceiling. The primary also ginned up anger over Roberts not actually having a residence in Kansas, but rather being a full-time creature of Washington DC.
Photo Credit: |||PBS News Hour