Fewer third-party candidates on election ballot this year

 

 

 

DOVER — Fifteen third-party candidates are running for office this year, the fewest since 2006.

Those 15 include Green and Libertarian candidates running for governor and the U.S. House, as well as seven minor-party hopefuls running for the Legislature.

In 2014, seven third-party candidates sought statewide office, while 2012 saw eight running statewide and a whopping 27 minor-party candidates in total, with a majority running as Libertarians.

Fewer Libertarians and Independents are on the ballot this year compared to 2014, although more Greens are listed, part of what one of the leaders of the Delaware Green Party called a “quantum leap” for his party.

For the Libertarian Party, the decreased number is part of a deliberate approach.

vote-logo-2016“We’re concentrating on, instead of putting numerous … candidates on the ballot that are not active, we’re taking the approach that we’re putting fewer but better, more qualified candidates on the ballot and investing our resources,” state party Chairman Scott Gesty, who is making his third bid for Congress, said.

It’s very much the same for the Independent Party of Delaware, which, with 4,700 members, is the largest minor party in the state.

“Candidates weren’t there that were credible to me for statewide,” Chairman Don Ayotte said. “I wanted to make a statement that we will run credible candidates.”

Mr. Ayotte is seeking a seat in the state House, while two other Independent candidates are running for Wilmington Council and mayor of Wilmington.

Both Mr. Gesty and Mr. Ayotte believe their parties have realistic chances at scoring major victories.

Mr. Gesty sees the U.S. House and governor’s races as challenging but winnable. Although he acknowledged the Libertarians are vastly disadvantaged compared to the two main parties, he believes there exist chances both to win in the short term and to grow the party into a major force over time.

“Given the dissatisfaction many people are having with the Donald Trumps and the Hillary Clintons, the two major-party political candidates, is getting us a lot of attention,” he said.

The Green Party’s David McCorquodale is more pessimistic — or, some might say, realistic.

“I don’t think any of us will win,” he said with a laugh.

The Green Party is more focused on growing over the course of years and decades, attracting younger people as it does.

“At this point realistically what we’re trying to do is get ourselves have more candidates on the ballot so people will get used to the idea there is a Green Party that has candidates beyond the presidential candidate,” Mr. McCorquodale, chair of the party’s chair of its state coordinating council, said.

Like Mr. Gesty, he believes the national climate is helping his party.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who spoke in Newark last month, has gained some attention this year, and Mr. McCorquodale said the party has picked up some disillusioned supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders. A firebrand from Vermont who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nominee, preaching against income inequality, Sen. Sanders gained a sizable following in the past year, but some of his backers turned on him after he endorsed Mrs. Clinton and, in the words of Mr. McCorquodale, “went back on his revolution.”

History

The Libertarian Party has had a presence in Delaware for about 40 years. In comparison, the Delaware Green and Independent parties are newer, having formed in 1998 and 2000, respectively.

While the Delaware Green and Libertarian parties are local subsets of national groups, the Independent Party of Delaware, as indicated by the name, is exclusive to the First State.

“We’re not like any other political party,” former party Chairman Wolfgang von Baumgart said. “We are a think tank with ballot access.”

A self-described centrist group, the Independent Party of Delaware’s platform lists government transparency and accountability as its main issues.

Mr. Ayotte is confident both he and mayoral candidate Steven Washington can win, going so far as to give himself a 50 percent chance to unseat incumbent Republican Steve Smyk in the 20th Representative District.

Seeking the same office, he earned 2 percent of the vote in 2014.

In three statewide races in 2014, no Libertarian topped 2 percent, while no Green hit 5 percent. Locally, they did a little better, with Mr. McCorquodale garnering 19 percent in the 21st District and Libertarian Robert Wilson pulling in 14 percent in the 7th Representative District. The two were helped by the fact they had just one opponent.

Exceeding the previous high would be at least a minor victory for the Green Party, Mr. McCorquodale said

While stressing he wants to win, Mr. Gesty said he would feel accomplished if a Libertarian candidate hits double digits.

Polls published this past week generally show Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson with at least 5 percent in the popular vote and in some cases, even as high as 11 percent. Mr. Johnson, who served as the Republican governor of New Mexico for eight years, gained 1 percent of the popular vote in 2012, but Mr. Gesty is willing to “bet the house” the ex-governor will exceed that next month.

He believes his party’s standard-bearer has a good chance to do well out west, potentially even winning a state.

“I’d almost say if we win a state or even come in second, there’s no more two-party system,” he said.

Ms. Stein received about a third of a percent in 2012. A small figure, that nonetheless comes out to about 470,000 people — half the population of Delaware.

Mr. McCorquodale expects her to exceed “what they claim she’s polling.”

A University of Delaware poll released earlier this month gives the Green and Libertarian nominees a combined 7 percent in Delaware’s gubernatorial race and 11 percent in its congressional contest.

Allegiance

In order to be successful, third-party candidates need to have both name recognition and access to funding, Delaware State University political science professor Sam Hoff said, citing Ross Perot.

A wealthy businessman who spent more than $60 million in his money in 1992, Mr. Perot garnered 19 percent of the popular vote, albeit with no electoral votes, that year.

The last third-party presidential candidate to win an electoral vote was Libertarian John Hospers, after a faithless elector cast a vote for him despite being pledged to Richard Nixon, in 1972.

George Wallace won five states and 46 electoral votes in the 1968 election as a member of the pro-segregation American Independent Party.

No third-party candidate has had success in Delaware in modern times.

Minor parties can take different forms. Some focus almost entirely on one issue, while others are formed as protests. The American Independent Party, for instance, focused on segregation, and the earlier Prohibition Party was founded on opposition to alcohol.

The most successful third parties, Dr. Hoff said, are those based on ideological grounds, such as the Libertarian Party.

“In my view, third parties are an indication of a healthy democracy, meaning that you have the ability of candidates to satisfy the requirements to be on the ballot,” he said.

However, he noted some people see third parties as a sign of “something missing” in mainstream discussion.

For several minor-party leaders in the state, the two major parties were indeed lacking something.

Mr. Gesty, a former Republican, turned to the Libertarian Party about eight years. The GOP “changed drastically” after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, shifting to the right and in the process losing his support, he said.

Unlike Mr. Gesty, Mr. McCorquodale was unaffiliated prior to joining the Green Party. He learned about the group through Iraq War protests around 2004.

“I went, ‘oh this is the party I’ve been looking for forever,’” he said.

Those are common stories among third-party members, who often feel the Republican and Democratic parties are either too extreme, too similar or just not focused on the right issues.

The 2016 election cycle could end up as a very beneficial one for the third parties. Unlikely as it is, with people fed up with incumbents and the political process, this year could be the big break minor-party supporters have been hoping.

“If you’re on the ballot you have a chance to win,” Mr. Gesty said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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