Politics

Did Libertarian Party cost GOP 9 races?

Did Libertarian Party cost GOP 9 races?
Libertarian Party 2012 presidential nominee Gary Johnson

Although Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson did not secure enough votes in any state to make the difference between whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney carried it, there is considerable evidence that other Libertarian candidates were spoilers for Republicans in several races for the House, Senate, and governor.

According to a chart prepared by the left-of-center news outlet Daily Kos, there were no fewer than nine contests in which the Libertarian nominee received more votes than the difference between the winning Democrat and losing Republican.

“What’s more, none of these involved the typical 1 or maybe 2 percent you ordinarily expect a Lib(ertarian) to garner,” wrote the Daily Kos’s David Nir. “Looking at the three-way vote, all but one were over 3 percent, and three took 6 percent or more, with a high of 6.5 percent in the Montana Senate race. These definitely seem like unusually high figures.”

Some of the contests were of particular interest to conservatives nationwide. In Indiana’s nationally-watched Senate race, for example, Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly won by a margin of 131, 575 votes over State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who made headlines earlier in the year by defeating veteran Republican Sen. Richard Lugar for renomination. Libertarian nominee Andrew Horning — who was included in televised debates with the two major party nominees — captured 146, 453 votes (5.8 percent), more than enough to have made a difference between Donnelly and Mourdock.

In Montana’s Senate race, incumbent Democrat Jon Tester edged Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg by 18,764 votes. But Libertarian Dan Cox drew 31,287 votes (6.5 percent), a high for a Libertarian statewide candidate anywhere and more than enough to make the difference (see chart below for vote count in the nine races).

Many Libertarians argue that their candidates do not take votes exclusively from Republicans, but rather draw from voters in both parties who are disgusted with politics and the two major parties in general. But there is also a strong case that the Libertarian message of greater freedom and smaller government appeals more to those likely to vote Republican than those leaning Democrat.

In July of this year, this reporter recalled to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) that in his first Senate race back in ‘02, he lost to Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson by a much-disputed margin of 524 votes and that Libertarian Kurt Evans drew more than 31,000 votes. Did Evans spoil the race for Republican Thune in favor of Democrat Johnson, I asked?

“No doubt about it,” Thune shot back without hesitation. “He ran to the right of me. I remember when (Evans) came in to tell me he was going to run and I said ‘you know Kurt, it’s going to be a really close race. You could be the difference in this.’ And he said ‘I’ve been called by God to do this’ and I said “I understand. I can’t tell you not to do this. I’m just telling you as a practical matter that in a really close race in this state, that whatever you take away is coming out of our vote total. But he went ahead and did it anyway, so you’re right.”

Put another way, Republicans in virtually every state appear to do their utmost to discourage a Libertarian from entering contests. But it is difficult—if not impossible—to find Democrats who wish the Libertarian candidate were not on the ballot or included in debates.

Race

Dem

Votes

GOP

Votes

Lib

Votes

(L) %

(D) – (R)

Margin

IN-Sen Donnelly 1,268,407 Mourdock 1,126,832 Horning 146,453 5.8% 141,575 -4,878
MT-Sen Tester 234,465 Rehberg 215,701 Cox 31,287 6.5% 18,764 -12,523
MT-Gov Bullock 234,980 Hill 226,555 Vandevender 17,729 3.7% 8,425 -9,304
AZ-01 Kirkpatrick 117,422 Paton 109,508 Allen 14,450 6.0% 7,914 -6,536
AZ-09 Sinema 108,056 Parker 101,089 Gammill 14,361 6.4% 6,967 -7,394
MA-06 Tierney 179,603 Tisei 175,953 Fishman 16,668 4.5% 3,650 -13,018
MI-11 Curson 159,267 Bentivolio 151,740 Tatar 11,611 3.6% 7,527 -4,084
NH-01 Shea-Porter 171,356 Guinta 158,482 Kelly 14,968 4.3% 12,874 -2,094
UT-04 Matheson 108,275 Love 105,629 Vein 5,703 2.6% 2,646 -3,057

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