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A Libertarian of the Left?

Dennis Kucinich courts the libertarian vote.

12:00 AM, Aug 8, 2003 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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"Because of my commitment to the environment, I think I can bring Greens into voting in the Democratic primary . . . and because of my commitment to civil liberties and challenge to the Patriot Act, I bring libertarians in."

--Dennis Kucinich, Congressional Quarterly Weekly, July 18, 2003

DENNIS KUCINICH does have remarkable support from big names in the Green party (you can read about it here). And he has claimed a following among Greens and libertarians at "almost every appearance and speech," according to communications director Jeff Cohen. But libertarians are markedly less enthusiastic. And it's hardly surprising that organizations like the Libertarian party aren't eager to back a man who is devoted to universal health care, universal day care, and the creation of a cabinet-level Department of Peace.

Kucinich does have a few libertarian credentials. He recently cosponsored, with libertarian Republican Rep. Ron Paul, a successful amendment to end funding for a section of the Patriot Act that allows delayed notice of a search. Paul's press secretary was not aware that Kucinich's name was on the amendment, however, and said his sponsorship "probably didn't affect" the outcome of the vote. When asked about other common ground between the two men, he laughed and said, "There's very little that my boss and Kucinich agree on."

Two weeks ago, Kucinich was slated to share a stage with the libertarian Cato Institute and the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund at a press conference to oppose the $2 billion marriage initiative included in the welfare reauthorization bill. Though they agree that the marriage initiative is a bad idea, Michael Tanner, Cato welfare expert, said of Kucinich: "He is a man of principles--most of which I don't agree with."

Kucinich's few links to libertarians aren't enough to earn him the kind of support he enjoys from Greens. Patrick Basham, also of Cato, says Kucinich is "doing so poorly that it is an obvious and astute move on his part to suggest that libertarians like him. . . . but it would be wildly optimistic to think that that would vault him even to the second tier of candidates." Nonetheless, says Basham, "He should continue to bang that drum, because it's the best one he's got in his orchestra."

The libertarian vote is already spread pretty thin, though. Public opinion researcher Mark Mellman observes that other, more popular, Democrats share Kucinich's limited appeal to libertarians. Kucinich is pro-choice and antiwar, but so are most of the other candidates. Kucinich is alone, however, in his strong opposition to the drug war, a major issue for libertarians.

Kucinich isn't the only candidate actively courting members of smaller parties. Richard Winger tracks third party politics, and says that Lenora Fulani's Committee for a United Independent Party circulated a questionnaire to all the Democratic candidates to which Kucinich has not responded. Dean did respond, and expressed support for the inclusion of third parties in presidential debates and on ballots. These positions are important to third party voters, and likely to win Dean some support.

According to Winger, there is no registration by party in 20 states, including Virginia and South Carolina, which both have February primaries. Libertarians can vote in those Democratic primaries simply by showing up at the polls. And in New Hampshire there are approximately 3,500 registered Libertarians who are considered Independents and who can therefore vote in the Democratic primary as well, according to Winger.

In these open primaries, the libertarian vote could make a difference, but it is difficult to obtain exact data about libertarian participation in Democratic primaries, or the kinds of candidates they favor.

Only about a third of self-identified libertarians who vote for a major party candidate usually vote Democratic, however, and Winger (along with nearly all the libertarians interviewed for this article) says anecdotal evidence suggests that libertarian Democratic votes will go overwhelmingly to Dean.

Still, Kucinich's campaign is hoping that Woody Allen was right when he said "90 percent of life is just showing up." Kucinich continues to doggedly assert that small party voters love him, and to mention the smaller parties by name. "I don't know that there is any other Democrat who mentions their names in nearly every appearance," said Kucinich spokesman Cohen (who calls himself a "libertarian of the left"). "I've never heard Kerry doing it, or Dean."

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter for The Weekly Standard.