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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Wasted Vote Hurts LP More Than Candidate Quality

Allen, I can't agree that the problem is mostly in the quality of our candidates.  Most voters know nothing about their congressional candidates except for what's on their ballot line. People vote for party first and candidate second.

Mike Moloney ran full time in 1998 as a Libertarian in CA12 and only got 5% -- just a little better than the standard LP share in 3-way congressional races. In 2002, he ran on the same platform, in the same district, but as a Republican, and got as many votes as any Republican would get -- 25%, without spending or raising even enough to meet the $5K reporting threshold.  In that race the San Mateo Daily News said he and the LP candidate were in "uneasy agreement on issues ranging from opposition to a possible war in Iraq and gun control to support for medical marijuana". This was a race in which the Daily News endorsed the full-time LP candidate Maad Abu-Ghazalah, who ended up getting 7% despite spending $130K on his campaign.

Judge James Gray was a very qualified candidate for Senate in 2004:  sitting Superior Court judge, former federal prosecutor, Peace Corps volunteer, Navy JAG lawyer, etc.  He  polled only 1.7% after spending $250K.   In 2006 our Senate candidate was Michael Metti, owner of a Postal Gift shop who spent less than the reporting threshold and polled 1.6%.  Gray was far more qualified in the conventional sense than Mr. Metti (or than I have been in my congressional campaigns), but those qualifications earned him no more than an extra 0.1% of the vote.

Candidate qualifications obviously count more than party affiliation in "non-partisan" races (although here in the Bay Area the important stepladder non-partisan offices nevertheless seem to be controlled by the Democrat machine).  However, I'm not aware of any major policy or career-building successes by Libertarians who have snuck into non-partisan office, and I note that libertarian-leaning congressmen Ron Paul and Dana Rohrabacher and Jeff Flake never won an election before Congress. Any funded libertarian with a non-trivial chance of winning legislative office as a Libertarian would have a much better chance running as an R or D and then de-cloaking after getting elected.  You could even defect back to the LP if you thought that incumbency would be enough to overcome the subsequent effort to unseat you.