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Libertarian Party wants to influence elections by winning


The following ran in the April 1, 2012, edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Political Scientist Cal Jillson provided expertise for this story.

April 13, 2012

By Anna M. Tinsley

Richard Cross may have played a key role four years ago in the fiercely fought battle for Texas Senate District 10.

In that race, Democrat Wendy Davis won the election with 49.91 percent of the vote to Republican Sen. Kim Brimer's 47.52 percent, with the two tallies separated by 7,095 votes.

Cross, the Libertarian in the race, earned 7,591 votes, enough to have been a game-changer in the race, some analysts believe.

"It's difficult to tell what impact Mr. Cross had on that race," said Allen Patterson, who heads Tarrant County's Libertarian Party. "I think the Libertarian Party is now pulling in a lot of voters who are frustrated with the Democratic Party's waffling on some personal freedom issues as well as economic conservatives who have no confidence in Republican promises of a smaller government.

"But the goal of the Libertarian Party is to influence elections by winning them, not by acting as a 'spoiler' for either of the other parties."

This year, the Texas Libertarian Party is poised to consider more than 100 candidates for slots on the November general election ballot during its state convention, which will be held in Fort Worth in June.

But the party will not field a candidate in the Texas Senate District 10 race, which will ultimately pit Davis, of Fort Worth, against the winner of the Republican primary, where Sen. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, and Derek Cooper will face off.

Texas Libertarians say that's not because of the impact their candidate may have had in this race in 2008.

"It was really tough recruiting this year with the redistricting process," said Pat Dixon, head of the Libertarian Party of Texas. "There was a lot of uncertainty.

"There were a few races where we just couldn't find candidates."

Third-party role

Libertarians and other third-party candidates say their goal is to win elections.

But third-party candidates have played key roles in past elections, including the 1992 and 2000 presidential races

In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton won the presidency with 43 percent of the vote to Republican President George H.W. Bush's 37.45 percent. That year, independent Ross Perot of Texas claimed 18.91 percent, with more than 19.7 million votes, and Libertarian Andre Marrou claimed 0.28 percent, election records show.

And in 2000, Republican George W. Bush of Texas was declared the winner after a lengthy court process. In the election, he took 47.87 percent of the vote to Democrat Al Gore's 48.38 percent, with fewer than 550,000 votes separating the two. Green Party Ralph Nader pulled 2.7 percent, with more than 2.8 million votes, Reform nominee Pat Buchanan picked up 0.43 percent, and Libertarian Harry Browne drew 0.36 percent, election records show.

Gore won the popular vote but came in second in the contest for electoral votes.

In Texas, a Libertarian nearly made the difference in a key race in 1998.

That was the battle between Republican Rick Perry and Democrat John Sharp to determine who would be the state's next lieutenant governor. In the end, Perry won the contest by 68,731 votes, or 50.04 percent, to Sharp's 48.19 percent. Libertarian Anthony Garcia drew 1.75 percent, or 65,150 votes.

"Libertarian candidates play a minor role in the elections," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "Libertarians rarely get elected. ... They don't usually play a spoiler's role because they generally are in the single-digit range.

"Only in that rare case, of a relatively close race between the Republican and Democrat, might the candidate swing the race one way or the other."

In the 2008 race for Texas Senate District 10, there is no way to know which way the votes would have gone if Cross hadn't been in the race.

"Even with no Libertarian, Wendy Davis could have still won," Jillson said. "Of those votes, some people may have just stayed home because they aren't Republicans or Democrats. ... The main thing is that of those votes the Libertarian took, some share might have gone to the Republican candidate, but it wouldn't have been all of them."...

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