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Spoiling Some of the Fun

Libertarian candidates cost Republicans a number of victories in the last election.

11:00 PM, Nov 19, 2002 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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IN SOUTH DAKOTA'S Senate race, voting irregularities on the Oglala Sioux Indian reservation have made some Republicans wonder whether Democratic senator Tim Johnson's 524 vote victory over Representative John Thune was legitimate. Voter fraud, they speculate, sent South Dakota's junior senator back to Washington for another six years. But while this accusation could have merit, another factor undoubtedly helped Johnson's cause: Libertarian candidate Kurt Evans managed to garner 3,000 votes from South Dakota's tiny electorate (just 234,435 people voted in the race).

Libertarians also tipped the balance in favor of Democrats in some of the nation's excruciatingly close gubernatorial races this year. In Wisconsin, Democrat Jim Doyle can thank Libertarian Ed Thompson (brother of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson) for his victory. Thompson took in 185,000 votes, while Doyle's margin over incumbent Republican Scott McCallum was 68,000 votes.

In Oklahoma, where a proposed cock-fighting ban drove rural voters to the polls to support Democrat Brad Henry, who opposed the measure, Republican Steve Largent had a bigger problem to contend with: Independent candidate Gary Richardson, who ran on a Libertarian platform. Richardson collected an astounding 14.1 percent of the vote, to Henry's 43.3 percent and Largent's 42.6 percent.

And in Oregon, Libertarian Tom Cox proudly takes credit for spoiling the election for Republican Kevin Mannix. In an editorial for the Oregonian called, "In My Opinion How I Cost Mannix the Election," Cox writes, "Ultimately the deciding factor was the Libertarian candidate--me. Did I cost Mannix the election? Yes. If Republicans and Democrats don't adjust to serve this constituency, this race won't be the last to include a Libertarian surprise."

The Republicans' Libertarian problem is not unique to this election cycle. It became evident in 1998 when Republican John Ensign fell 500 votes short of toppling Nevada's incumbent senator Harry Reid. Libertarian Michael Emerling Cloud collected 8,000 votes. In 2000 it happened in another Senate race when Maria Cantwell squeaked by Washington senator Slade Gorton by just 2,225 votes, with Libertarian Jeff Jared taking almost 65,000 votes.

Although both Republicans and Libertarians support lower taxes, smaller government, and a free-market economy, the Libertarian agenda differs from the GOP's in important ways. Most Libertarians support gay rights, at least some drug legalization, and an isolationist foreign policy.

When accused of spoiling elections for Republicans, Libertarians take an attitude similar to Ralph Nader's Green party when they were accused of spoiling the presidential election for Democrats in 2000: They don't care.

Says George Getz, the Libertarian National Committee's press secretary, "You can't spoil tainted meat."

Rachel DiCarlo is a staff assistant at The Weekly Standard.