Monday, February 11, 2008

The Third Party Primaries... and Ron Paul?

Well, I'm back from business.

Since I posted last, Barack Obama has won five state contests over Hillary Clinton, the smallest margin being seventeen percentage points. He's also won a Grammy for "best spoken word album", this time beating Bill Clinton, both for audio books.

Since I posted last, Mike Huckabee won two states and still refuses to concede the third, citing vote-counting irregularities in Washington state. Despite this, it has become mathematically impossible for Huckabee to win the nomination himself; the best he can do, and even this is a longshot, is to deny John McCain the nomination until the convention.

I'm not writing about either of those today. Instead, I'm going to turn my attention back to the Libertarian Party... who now have some very serious questions to answer, now that Ron Paul is scaling back his GOP Presidential campaign... and absolutely, unequivocally, categorically rejecting any consideration of a third party candidacy.

In short: Ron Paul will not bolt the party. He will not seek or accept the Libertarian, Constitution, Reform, or any other third party Presidential nomination.

So... what next?

Libertarian blogger Stephen Gordon, LP chair in Alabama and current editor of Third Party Watch, has come around to the idea most of us anti-Paulites already had- that the Ron Paul campaign would destroy the Libertarian Party. Members have left the party to register Republican to vote for Ron Paul. Paul's amazing feats of one-day fundraising came at the cost of funds drying up for all Libertarian candidates in all races. Even now Paulites in the party want to draft Ron Paul and continue the fight, ignoring several in-party candidates.

Will the Libertarian Party persist in chasing Ron Paul? It could. Remember, we don't elect a President directly- we vote for a slate of electors, members of the Electoral College who themselves vote for President and Vice President. I can't recall any party- even a third party- nominating a candidate against his will, though.

But if the Libertarians don't nominate Ron Paul who's left? The Libertarian Party participates in a few state primaries, but they're all beauty contests- non-binding. No delegates are bound by primaries to vote for the primary winner in the national convention. In 2004 Gary Nolan, my personal preference, swept the seven Libertarian primaries... and came in third at the convention. The Libertarian Party nomination is dominated not by actual voters, but by the party insiders- especially the party purists and the anarchists, who have disproportionate power compared to how many actual voters support their views.

But let's look at those primaries anyway, to see what happened:

ARIZONA: The first ever primary by any party to take place entirely on the Internet. Arizona is a perfect example of the Libertarian Party's problems: schismed, internally destructive, and more interested in shutting new voters out than bringing them in. The AZLP is not reporting actual numbers, so we don't know if there were any "Uncommitted" votes. "Uncommitted" is another way of saying, "We want to draft someone who isn't officially running," in this case Ron Paul. George Phillies, a moderate reformer by Libertarian standards, won the vote, followed by sports-betting infomercial maven Wayne Allen Root. Favorite-son perennial candidate Barry Hess placed third.

CALIFORNIA: In California, where every ballot-access party has to participate in the state primary, Christine Smith- one of the more radical anarchist candidates- pulled in 25% of the vote- which amounted to fewer than four thousand actual votes. The total votes cast in the Libertarian primary for President come up to fewer than twelve thousand votes, scattered widely among twelve candidates. Marijuana activist Steve Kubby, who has pledged to bow out in favor of Ron Paul, placed second at 17%. Wayne Allen Root, the only other candidate to pull in a double-digit percentage, got 13%.

MISSOURI: Finally, Missouri. About two thousand voters participated in the Libertarian primary- as opposed to 1.4 million votes total for all three parties in the primary. Ron Paul got over twenty-six thousand votes in the Republican primary... and nearly a thousand votes in the Libertarian primary, if you read "Uncommitted" as support for drafting Paul. That option took nearly half the total Libertarian votes, leaving Wayne Allen Root to come in a very distant second. Christine Smith wasn't on the ballot; all candidates except Uncommitted and Root were in single digits of percentages.

An overview of these contests show two trends: first, no uniting figure from within the party; second, much smaller turnouts for Libertarian Party activities than in the past. Both of these factors may be laid at the feet of Ron Paul and the shadow he casts on the libertarian movement.

Will Libertarians push forward with a draft-Paul movement, or will they choose one of the frankly uninspiring choices from within the party? The choice won't matter much at this point: the damage has been done, and what follows will either be picking up the pieces or the final collapse of a long-unstable structure.

I'm very glad I'm out of it.

As for the other two significant third parties... the Constitution Party held a primary in California, but three candidates of no significance whatever split the vote. A number of people have expressed interest in the Constitution Party nomination, including Republican gadfly Alan Keyes...

... and the Constitution Party activists have been inviting Ron Paul to speak before them for the past year, implying interest in drafting him as a Constitution Party candidate. Ron Paul might just appear twice on some ballots in November...

The Green Party is showing more strength than the other two, in no small part because the Greens were not looking to, say, Dennis Kucinich the way the other two were looking to Ron Paul. Primary results from Super Tuesday suggest that the Green nomination is Ralph Nader's to have should he reach for it (and he almost certainly will). If he doesn't, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney- known for slapping a Capitol Building policeman, for making multiple anti-Semitic comments on the campaign stump, and for filing impeachment charges against George W. Bush as her last act before leaving office- will almost certainly take his place.

All in all, this year's third-party candidates make me even more firm in my support of Barack Obama. On the other hand, it'd be entertaining to see Obama defeat Clinton, McKinney get the Green nod, and Keyes the Constitution nomination. That would mean a November election where three of the five largest political parties would have black Presidential candidates.

The very fact that such a situation is possible makes me feel a little bit better about where we are as a nation.


Stephen Gordon said...

To be clear, I'm not stating that "that the Ron Paul campaign would destroy the Libertarian Party," but that the GOP certainly may see some significant benefit from the Paul campaign. Time will tell if LP efforts to pick up Ron Paul supporters and get those lost voter registrations back are effective.

Silussa said...

I see in the LJ Libertarian community a major hew and cry regarding someone filing to run against Ron Paul...on the Libertarian ticket.

If I may.... :)

Kris Overstreet said...

Silussa: The Libertarian candidate has pledged to drop out of the race should Ron Paul win the Republican primary for his house seat.

There is no Democratic candidate.