Monday, October 27, 2014

Independent and third party candidates may spoil Senate races

voting lesser evilWith control of the Senate coming down to a few seats that are too close to call, independent and third party candidates are positioned to play the spoiler in a number of races. In an unusual development, two independent candidates are making strong campaigns in two states. In several other states, Libertarian candidates are gaining just enough traction to affect the outcome of a close race. One three-way race pits a Tea Party favorite against another Republican and a Democrat.

The biggest outside threat to a race comes in Kansas, where independent Greg Orman is in a statistical tie with Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. The Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, dropped out under pressure from national Democrats to step aside for Orman, a longtime Democrat supporter according to the Washington Examiner. Orman refuses say which party he would caucus with if he becomes the deciding vote in the Senate.

Another independent candidate is South Dakota’s Larry Pressler. Pressler is a former Republican congressman and Senator who supported Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Pressler, whose policy agenda closely aligns with Democratic positions these days, polled almost even with Mike Rounds (R), a former governor and the favorite to win the seat in early October. The poll, from Survey USA, also found that Pressler voters preferred Rick Weiland, the Democratic candidate, over Mike Rounds by almost a two-to-one margin.

The Libertarian Party is also positioned to spoil a number of races. The Libertarian website notes that there are Libertarian candidates on the ballot in nearly every battleground Senate race. These include Mark Fish in Alaska, Nathan LaFrane in Arkansas, Gaylon Kent in Colorado, Amanda Swafford in Georgia, Doug Butzier in Iowa, Randall Batson in Kansas, David Patterson in Kentucky, Roger Roots in Montana, and Sean Hough in North Carolina.

These Libertarian candidates have no chance of winning. Most don’t even show up in the polls, but they do have the potential to throw close races to the Democrats. Libertarian candidates often draw support disproportionately from voters who would otherwise support the Republican candidate.  This was the case last year in the Virginia gubernatorial election where a Libertarian candidate helped Democrat Terry McAuliffe eke out a three point victory over Ken Cuccinelli. In the Virginia race, and likely in others as well, Democratic fundraisers bankrolled the Libertarian candidate in order to dilute conservative votes according to campaign finance filings published by The Blaze.

In Georgia and Louisiana, candidates are required to get over 50 percent of the vote to win. If no candidate gets 50 percent, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff election. At this point, no candidate in either state is polling at more than 50 percent.

In Georgia, the most recent poll, by Landmark Communications, shows David Perdue (R) and Michelle Nunn (D) in a dead heat with 47 percent each. Amanda Swafford, the Libertarian candidate is at three percent and two percent are undecided. With Swafford in the race, it is likely that Perdue and Nunn will face each other in a runoff in January.

In Lousiana, incumbent Mary Landrieu (D) faces two Republicans. The Real Clear Politics average shows Landrieu with a slight lead over her two opponents, but falling far short of the necessary 50 percent. The leading Republican, Bill Cassidy, trails Landrieu by three points while Rob Maness, the Tea Party favorite, is a distant third with eight percent. Polling shows that Cassidy leads Landrieu in a two-way race and should and should have an edge in the runoff in December.

In both cases, a runoff would favor Republicans says analyst Dick Morris. Republican voters tend to be more motivated to vote in runoff elections and the absence of the third candidate would likely shift more votes to the GOP candidates. Additionally, Morris speculates that momentum after the Nov. 4 general election will likely favor Republicans, especially if the party captures the necessary six seats to control the Senate in the first round of elections.

In every race, with the sole exception of Kansas, the final victor is certain to be either a Democrat or a Republican. The question is whether enough voters will vote for independent and third party candidates to affect the outcome of the other races and perhaps the balance of the Senate.

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