Libertarian US Senate candidate Kurt Evans did not, and will not, cost anyone an election
A couple of weeks ago Kurt Evans notified the Argus Leader he would be running for US Senate as a Libertarian. I think this is great news and means more actual choices on the ballot. Hopefully the media in South Dakota will give print/air time to Mr Evans (and any other independent or third-party candidates for that matter). I’ve spoken with quite a few people in the last couple weeks that are concerned Evans could cause the seat to be retained by a Democrat. I wholeheartedly dismiss such claims.
This issue goes back to 2002 when John Thune was taking on Tim Johnson for the Senate seat. Shortly before the election Evans withdrew from the race and threw his support behind Thune. Thune ended up losing that election by 525 votes. Since Evans was still on the ballot, people could vote for him and he still received about 3070 votes. Many have looked back and said Evans cost Thune that election. I disagree.
I remember the 2002 election. It was not a good or ‘nice’ election. The election had national spotlight and there were plenty of attack ads to go around. Evans was not involved in any of the attack ads. In fact just before the election this was included in a Rapid City Journal article:
Because he made his move long after South Dakota’s Aug. 6 deadline for officially withdrawing from the race, Evans’ name will still appear as an enticement to those wishing to cast a protest vote against the negative advertising that has dominated the Thune-Johnson contest.
Even after the election Evans made this statement:
“First of all, my actual support of roughly 3 percent was acquired mostly by positioning myself as a protest against attack ads. My opponents both said I was drawing from them about equally.
I was one of the voters that had planned on a vote for Evans. Due to Evans move I ended up voting for Thune. I know many libertarians who did the same. The people I know personally that ended up voting for Evans said they would never have voted for Thune or Johnson. That was true even (or maybe especially) if Thune and Johnson had been the only two on the ballot. If Evans had never been a candidate I believe Johnson still would have won.
But that still does not address the real question here: do third-party candidates cost elections for Republicans or Democrats? To that I say no. Candidates must work hard to get their message out to constituents and make their case as to how they can best serve the electorate. If a candidate is spreading a message that people can relate to AND if those same people believe in the character of that candidate they will get votes regardless of party. I’ve seen Libertarian, Constitution, and Green party candidates blamed many times for swinging elections. Yet if those candidates had found ways to include the third-party viewpoints I believe most of those votes would go to the big-party candidate. As a small-l libertarian I know very few libertarians have any loyalty to the Libertarian Party. Actually most libertarians I know are either registered Independent or Republican (a few Democrats, but they are dwindling during the Obama years). There are some hardcore libertarians that will never vote for an R or D; however a majority of them are willing to vote for a candidate that meets their ideal mix of a relevant message and trustworthy character.
In the 2002 election I believe Evans made the election much closer with his move. Instead of winning by 500 I believe Johnson would have won that election by at least a few thousand votes if Evans had stayed in the election. Going into the 2014 election I expect some will contend Evans will be an election-spoiler yet ‘again’. No, even if the race is very close I would say no third-party candidate will be an election spoiler. If the election becomes as close as the 2002 election I believe it will be due to another election gaining national attention; thus pushing a long and negative campaign for the Democrat and Republican candidates. Such an environment would make people more willing to listen to the message being conveyed by Mr Evans. If the campaign is long and negative enough it might even create an opportunity for Evans to win the election (politically an extremely long-shot, but not impossible).