Their chances of winning are slim to none, but that isn’t stopping Libertarian candidates from running for seats up and down the ballot in Georgia elections.
With candidates vying for governor, secretary of state and eight other down-ballot positions, Georgia Libertarians hope to broadcast their message of tax cuts, deregulation and voter reform — and their candidacy could shape the election, even without any victories in November.
“Like everything in minority-party politics, this is a building block,” said Smythe DuVal, the Libertarian candidate for secretary of state. “It’s about building a coalition of people who care about our platform.”
This year, Libertarians hope that a wave of anti-establishment sentiment will help them win a bigger slice of the vote than in past elections. If the races for governor or lieutenant governor are close in November, the Libertarian candidates could increase the chances of a December runoff that would result if no candidate is able to earn more than 50 percent of the vote.
“Win, lose or draw, the Libertarian candidates are there to give voters a valid choice and let them show that they’re fed up with the establishment on both sides,” said Ted Metz, the Georgia Libertarian Party’s chairman and its candidate for governor. “The two parties talk about emotional issues to stir people up. As long as there’s the stranglehold of Republicans and Democrats, the issues that actually matter won’t get addressed.”
In the 2014 gubernatorial election, Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hunt won 60,185 ballots, or 2.36 percent of the vote. Before that, Libertarian John Monds won 4.01 percent of the vote in the 2010 race for governor.
Georgia’s last high-profile race that was swung by a Libertarian candidate was for the U.S. Senate in 2008, when Libertarian Allen Buckley earned 3.4 percent of ballots and kept incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss at 49.8 percent of the vote. Chambliss went on to defeat Democratic challenger Jim Martin in the runoff. The 1992 U.S. Senate race saw a similar outcome.
“In those cases, they initially took votes away from Republicans, but in the runoffs Republicans always won, even if they weren’t ahead the first time around,” University of Georgia political science professor Charles Bullock said.
Libertarian candidates’ positions have the potential to take root in more mainstream platforms if they garner enough support from voters, especially conservative messages such as cutbacks on regulations for businesses and tax reductions that mirror some Republican talking points.
But this year, a significant chunk of Libertarian platforms are focused on more traditionally liberal causes, such as criminal justice reform and voter access. Metz and several down-ballot candidates tout platforms that highlight a need to change policing tactics that they say disproportionately target people of color and low-income Georgians.
Jay Strickland, a candidate for the 42nd District of the state House of Representatives, said he was inspired to run by the so-called “Cartersville 70” incident in his hometown, where 70 young people were arrested at a house party in December after police found less than an ounce of marijuana. Charges were dropped against all but one of those arrested.
A large part of Strickland’s platform is dedicated to reducing arrests and curtailing police violence.
“One of the things we care about is pressure on the state government to implement the policy that … every time there’s a police incident with deadly use of force, it should trigger an investigation by GBI,” Strickland said.
Strickland is challenging Democrat Teri Anulewicz, who took office after Stacey Evans vacated the seat in November to run unsuccessfully for governor. While Strickland’s victory is highly unlikely, he is poised to claim a significant fraction of the vote as the only other candidate.
“Sometimes Libertarians will earn close to 25 percent of the vote — that’s typically the high-water mark — and you usually see it when they’re only running against a single party with no other party challenger,” Bullock said.
DuVal, who is running for secretary of state on a platform of election reform, hopes that his candidacy will draw more attention to a cause he believes Democratic lawmakers have been too slow to address. He advocates for the creation of multimember districts, laws that allow for voter registration on the same day as elections, and an independent commission to fix gerrymandering.
“The Democratic Party can come and join us in supporting election reform, but Libertarian voters are not going to just give them our votes,” DuVal said. “(Democratic secretary of state nominee John) Barrow is going to come at gerrymandering, but he’s going to come at it in a way that protects the two-party system.”
Some down-ballot Libertarians have garnered the support of Republicans. Ryan Graham, the Libertarian candidate for District 3 public service commissioner, picked up the endorsement of Atlanta Tea Party Chairwoman Debbie Dooley. And after Republican candidate John Hitchins lost the District 5 PSC primary to Tricia Pridemore, Hitchins said he had more in common with the Libertarian opponent, John Turpish, than with his own party’s nominee.
“I do support the Libertarians in the sense that they are in line with me in supporting a free market,” Hitchins said. “I’m not endorsing anyone specific, but I won’t support the candidate from my party.”
Looking toward November, Libertarians see an opportunity to make an impact, even if victory is unlikely.
“By running, we help shape the conversation,” Turpish said. “It may take a miracle to win, but miracles happen every day.”