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NYC Boss

Third Parties and the Senate

Third Parties and the Senate

Gary Johnson during his 2016 presidential campaign. (Jim Young/Reuters)

Gary Johnson’s run this year for the Senate seat in New Mexico could signal a productive direction for America’s third parties. Johnson was the state’s Republican governor from 1998-2003, and remains popular in the state. The first three-way poll for the Senate race shows the incumbent Democrat, Martin Heinrich, in the lead at 39 percent, followed by Gary Johnson at 21 percent, and the Republican candidate Mick Rich coming in last with 11 percent. A whopping 30 percent of respondents were still undecided, which shows that the state is still very much in play. And the Democrats seem to be worried, considering that New Mexico’s secretary of state just announced that down-the-line party voting will return to the state this November.

Johnson won the endorsement of Kentucky Republican senator Rand Paul this week, and this might indicate that there are more endorsements from prominent conservatives to come.

The election of independent senators is not unheard of in American politics, as the success of Bernie Sanders, Joe Lieberman, and Angus King makes clear. While Johnson is running on the Libertarian-party ticket, rather than as an independent, his situation is analogous to that of Joe Lieberman, who initially held statewide office under a major party banner. Johnson might appeal both to centrist New Mexicans who dislike their current senator but do not want to support a Republican in the age of Trump, and to conservatives who are skeptical of supporting a businessman with no political experience for the Senate.

Third parties tend to get national attention for their presidential runs, but when they are able to get candidates with a strong base and record at the state level, as the Libertarian party did with Governors Johnson and Weld, they have a good shot at winning Senate seats. And a Senate vote is, at the end of the day, much more consequential than a failed presidential run (which is not to say that the latter is unimportant).

While this may seem backwards, perhaps the best approach would be to save the experienced and prominent candidates for Senate campaigns, while choosing articulate advocates for the party’s ideas for the presidential race. The realpolitik of politicians who’ve worked within the system can sound watered down, for a national third-party candidacy, because party members want a candidate who will represent them ideologically. On the other hand, that very factor can be a feature at the state level. The presidential candidate can use the election as a platform to educate — while the Senate candidates might just win.

Governor Johnson’s campaign is worth watching.


Jibran Khan


Jibran Khan is the Thomas L. Rhodes Journalism Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Published at Fri, 31 Aug 2018 21:42:29 +0000