Did Third-Party Presidential Candidates Spoil Florida for Romney?
Around the State
“I hoped that I would get labeled as a ‘spoiler’ from the standpoint of people actually focusing on what it is I am saying, and that this changes the way whoever wins governs,” Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson told Sunshine State News in a sit-down interview in August. The ex-Republican is one of New Mexico’s most popular former governors, winning 3.5 percent of that state’s vote Tuesday.
Johnson didn’t, in fact, spoil the race for either Republican Mitt Romney or Democratic incumbent Barack Obama. In Florida, he seems to have earned some 0.53 percent of the presidential total, not enough to bridge the gap between Obama’s 49.87 percent and Romney’s 49.27 percent. A similar dynamic played out in Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado, all swing states Romney lost. Though the jury is technically still out in Florida while absentee ballots continue to be counted, it seems safe to say Johnson did not bridge the two-party gap in any state race.
At least, he didn’t do it alone.
“When you add up all of the third-party votes, there actually was enough to tip Florida in either [major] candidate’s favor,” Adrian Wyllie, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Florida, tells Sunshine State News. “We’re pretty happy with the outcome.”
Wyllie might be right. As of this writing, Romney trails Obama in Florida by 49,890 votes. That gap is more than filled by the votes received by the Libertarian Party’s Johnson (43,919) and the Green Party’s Jill Stein (8,764). And that’s not including the votes taken by the Constitution Party’s Virgil Goode (2,559) and independent comedian-turned-politico Roseanne Barr (8,030). (Barr ran as an independent after an unsuccessful bid for the Green nomination.)
The votes from these four third-party candidates alone (there were six others in the state who received votes) total 63,272.
This dynamic did not play out elsewhere; in every other state, the victor won by a majority vote, rather than a plurality as seems to be the case in Florida.
But is it reasonable for analysts to consider third-partiers as a single bloc? The Libertarians and the Constitutionalists are center-right parties, but the Greens (including Barr) are firmly on the left. Could they ever collectively swing an election in favor of one candidate?
“Absolutely,” says Wyllie. “If Ron Paul had won the Republican nomination, he probably would have pulled in the [mainstream] Republican vote, all of the Libertarian and Constitution Party votes, and several Green votes, too. That could have turned the state of Florida to a Republican victory.”
A Ron Paulian Republican uniting a Halloween-coalition of libertarians, traditionalist conservatives, and eco-socialists isn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. During the 2008 campaign, the Texas congressman brought together third-party candidates Ralph Nader (Independent-Ecology), Cynthia McKinney (Green), and Chuck Baldwin (Constitution); got them to produce a joint manifesto expressing unity on the issues of foreign policy, civil liberties, debt reduction, and auditing the federal reserve; and gave them all something of a joint endorsement. (Libertarian candidate Bob Barr was invited to join the coalition, but declined to, instead inviting Paul to become his running mate.)
"While our economic views are almost diametrically opposed, on social and foreign policy issues the Green Party and Libertarian Party are very close,” explains Wyllie. “So if someone is primarily voting on ending wars overseas or of protecting individual liberty, for that voter, you really could put all the third parties together as a kind of single voting bloc on some of those issues.”
Daniel Hicks, spokesman for the Green Party of Florida, agrees.
“In the aggregate what [the third-party vote total] shows is there is a very strong independent bloc of voters in Florida, and it’s probably growing,” Hicks tells the News. “These voters are dissatisfied with the mirage of a choice. The perceived differences between the [Democratic and Republican] parties are very insignificant when it comes to the major issues of the day.
“The libertarians almost share the same bed with us Greens when it comes to certain overriding issues: the federal reserve, civil liberties, big business, foreign intervention overseas,” he continues. “This dovetails with the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement and some of the positions that came out of that. ‘Occupy’ found a place somewhere between the libertarian right and the Greens because of the [joint opposition] to the concentration of power in Big Government joined to Big Business. These are some key areas where you have some coalescence of perspective among the perceived right and left.”
The Stein and Barr tickets together attracted almost 17,000 votes, nearly half the number received by McKinney and Nader in 2008, and about a sixth of 97,000 votes Nader received in 2000, when he ran on the Green ticket and drew leftist votes away from Democrat Al Gore.
Wyllie, for his part, insists Tuesday was a record-breaking night for his party.
“We did not meet our objective of receiving 5 percent of the national popular vote” he said. (Johnson received about 1 percent.) “However, we did achieve some very good things. This was the first time in Libertarian Party history that we received more than a million votes for our presidential candidate. That in itself is quite a victory.”
Had Johnson received that coveted 5 percent, the Libertarian nominee in 2016 would be eligible to receive tens of millions of dollars of voluntarily-donated public funds earmarked for political campaigns by the federal government.
Wyllie said that while the Libertarian Party of Florida has achieved some modest local victories in previous years – a couple of mayorships and councilman seats – their immediate goal is to “break the glass ceiling” of the state Legislature. Libertarians running this year in Florida House districts 14, 26, and 108 won between 20 percent and 34 percent of the vote in those races.
Wyllie believes the long-term destiny of third parties is to serve as more than just the token presidential spoiler; he says it’s just a matter of time before they grow into their own, and are a political force.
“Trying to take over the Republican Party is like trying to weld wings onto a dump truck to make it fly,” he says. “The Libertarian Party is building the plane.”
Reach Eric Giunta at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (954) 235-9116.