by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Media accounts of fringe candidates sometimes focus on personal eccentricities to the exclusion of serious issues. In North Carolina, for example, Libertarian Senate candidate Sean Haugh is a 53-year-old pizza deliveryman whose campaign consists mostly of making videos of himself discussing weighty issues — war and peace, government spending — while sipping craft beer out of a glass bearing the Image of legendary libertarian economist Murray Rothbard.
“My name is Sean Haugh, and I approve this message — why am I supposed to say that?” Haugh asked in one of the videos.
“It’s a rule, Sean,” said an off-screen voice.
“But it’s me,” Haugh said. “I’m talking. It’s just me. Of course I approve this message.”
“Just say it.”
It was an amusing scene, but Haugh could be a very serious factor in the North Carolina race. In a late-August PPP survey, Haugh received eight percent support. If he actually got that much in the election, he could determine the outcome. And even if he receives far less — many observers expect his share of the vote to shrink by at least half on election day — Haugh could make a difference.
The conventional wisdom is that Haugh would hurt Thom Tillis, the Republican Senate candidate in North Carolina. But the situation might not be that clear cut. Recently some conservative strategists made a careful study of the Virginia governor’s race, in which Democrat Terry McAuliffe won narrowly after a Libertarian candidate received six and a half percent of the vote. The strategists went into the study thinking the Libertarian took votes mostly from Republican Ken Cuccinnelli — taking maybe 90 votes from Cuccinnelli for every 10 votes from McAuliffe. The study showed that yes, the Libertarian did hurt Cuccinnelli, but that the ratio was closer to 60-40. So the damage was not quite as one-sided as some in the GOP thought.
Still, a Libertarian candidate nearly always presents a challenge to the Republican. “We do have a problem with the libertarians,” says the conservative strategist who directed the Virginia study. “The Democrats fund them. The Left has gotten good at that. We’ve got to address it by 2016.”