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Libertarians, primaries and winning elections

By Scott Tibbs, September 15, 2013

One of the things that is frustrating about third-party candidates is that they sacrifice perfectly winnable races in favor of a Don Quixote campaign they cannot win. An example of this is Andy Horning, who is running for Congress against Larry Bucshon as a Libertarian. Horning posted this on Facebook on September 7:

Yes, I know that I would be more likely to win if I ran as a D or an R. Yes, that would be a great gig for me, personally. But what would that do for you? What message would it send to those controlling the D and R puppets if you sent another Robert Taft, Barry Goldwater or Ron Paul to work within the corrupt system?

Now, I like Andy. I think he would be an excellent public servant if he was elected to something. He actually did run for Congress as a Republican in the Seventh District in 2004, after running in the same district as a Libertarian two years earlier. But, realistically, the odds of him being elected as a Libertarian are very slim.

So why not challenge Bucshon in the primary instead? (I think Bucshon has been a fine Congressman and should stay where he is.) There have been a number of "Tea Party" conservatives - basically libertarians - who have challenged incumbents or establishment-backed candidates in open primaries and been successful. Horning would stand a far better chance of defeating Bucshon in the primary than in the general.

I understand that many Libertarians (and Greens, for that matter) feel that the two major parties cannot be reformed from the inside. But look at what Ron Paul has been able to accomplish over the last ten years. Paul would never have had the platform to wage competitive campaigns in 2008 and 2012 had he not had a seat in Congress - a seat he never would have won if he tried to capture it as a Libertarian. Now his son Rand Paul is a high-profile member of the U.S. Senate advocating (small-L) libertarian ideals on a national stage.

Perhaps Ron Paul was working within a "corrupt system," but if you do not win elections you have little chance of bringing about real change. No matter how effective your policies might be and no matter how convincing your argument might be, you need to be in office in order to have a chance at implementing anything.