Georgia Libertarian Helps Push Senate Race Into Runoff

Chase Oliver rejects the notion he primarily pulled votes away from Herschel Walker: ‘The largest pool of voters that voted for me are actually self-described independents.’

AP/Ben Gray
The Libertarian candidate, Chase Oliver, during a U.S. Senate debate at the Atlanta Press Club October 16, 2022. AP/Ben Gray

After the red wave failed to materialize on Tuesday, all attention is now focused on the Georgia breakwater: a 37-year-old openly gay Libertarian named Chase Oliver who earned just more than 2 percent of the vote in the Senate contest, thereby preventing either of the two major party candidates from reaching the 50 percent threshold.

In a nailbiter of a race, the Democrat incumbent, Senator Warnock, earned 49.4 percent of the vote, while his Republican challenger, Hershel Walker, trails with 48.5 percent. A runoff between Messrs. Warnock and Walker is scheduled for December 6.

The balance of power in the U.S. Senate will likely hinge on Georgia. The Nevada and Arizona Senate races have yet to be called, but in the Silver State, Republican Adam Laxalt has pulled ahead of Democrat incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto, and in Arizona, Republican Blake Masters is trailing the incumbent Democrat, Mark Kelly. The Republicans have so far secured 49 seats to the Democrats’ 48.

Mr. Oliver’s role in forcing a Georgia runoff has put the Libertarian candidate at the center of a debate about the purpose of third-party candidates and whether they function solely as so-called spoilers. He’s also gotten a fair share of anger directed his way. “Thank you, Chase Oliver,” Jesse Watters said with sarcasm Wednesday night on Fox News. On Twitter others declared him the “most hated man in Georgia.” Yet Mr. Oliver says he has no regrets.

“You can’t spoil what’s already rotten,” he tells the Sun, “Without more choices and more voices, you will have a two-party system that continues to move further and further away from where the average voter is, and that is poisonous to our democracy.”

Mr. Oliver says he provided a needed alternative to the duopoly, offering a platform of “maximum liberty and keeping government out of your business if you’re living your life in peace.” In a race that many viewed as plagued by candidate-quality issues — particularly with regard to Mr. Walker, though Mr. Warnock couldn’t escape his personal baggage either — more than 81,000 Georgians cast their votes for Mr. Oliver, a candidate with a near-zero chance of winning but whose record didn’t include any forced abortions or domestic violence accusations.

“I think Hershel Walker was full of controversies, and he didn’t reflect conservative values,” the Libertarian National Committee chairwoman, Angela McArdle, tells the Sun.

While the Republican governor, Brian Kemp, won re-election in Georgia with 53 percent of the vote, more than 200,000 of his voters didn’t cast a ballot for Mr. Walker. “I think what we witnessed was a mix of Georgia Republicans either not voting or voting for Chase,” Ms. McArdle says.

With the Libertarian platform of limited government, fiscal prudence, and protecting the Second Amendment, traditional wisdom has it that the party draws more votes from those who would otherwise back Republicans. The recent takeover of the Libertarian Party by the Mises Caucus, with its more conservative social leanings, focus on anti-wokeness, and reverence for Ron Paul, makes this adage ring true. Yet in the case of Mr. Oliver, the narrative doesn’t fit.  

In addition to limited government, Mr. Oliver advocates for LGBTQ rights, gay marriage, legalized abortion, legalizing drugs, and criminal justice reform. He says he started out as “an anti-war Democrat.” He did outreach at gay pride events and is seen in pictures holding a rainbow Gadsden flag — a perfect encapsulation of his libertarian ideology but a mixture that nonetheless doesn’t fit neatly into the left-right paradigm. Mr. Oliver is also a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, writing on Twitter: “Armed gays don’t get bashed.”

Mr. Oliver rejects the notion he primarily pulled votes away from Mr. Walker. “The largest pool of voters that voted for me are actually self-described independents. And then it’s pretty evenly split between the self-described Democrats and Republicans,” Mr. Oliver says.

Who wins the runoff in December will largely depend on turnout, as Democrats and Republicans try to convince their voters to return to the polls for a second time in four weeks. Historically, the GOP has been better at turning out voters in runoffs, with 2020 being the main exception. Mr. Walker, though, won’t be able to ride the coattails of a popular Republican governor this time, which could dampen GOP turnout. Unforeseen events in the next few weeks could also influence the result.

Georgia isn’t the only state where the Libertarian vote could help decide an election. In Arizona, the Libertarian candidate for Senate, Marc Victor, has earned more than 2 percent of the vote despite dropping out of the race on November 1 and endorsing the Republican, Blake Masters. This eleventh-hour move came too late for Mr. Victor’s name to be removed from the ballot, and early voting had already begun.

Mr. Masters is currently trailing the Democrat incumbent, Mark Kelly, by 5 percentage points, but with only 70 percent of ballots counted, the race is too close to call. If Mr. Masters starts closing in on Mr. Kelly, the Libertarian vote could be a deciding factor.

In the 2020 presidential election, the Libertarian Party candidate, Jo Jorgensen, earned more votes in several states — including Georgia and Arizona — than the difference by which President Biden beat President Trump.

In the 2016 New Hampshire Senate race, Democrat Maggie Hassan beat the Republican incumbent, Kelly Ayotte, by 1,017 votes. The Libertarian Party’s candidate that year earned 17,000 votes. This year, the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire threatened again to play spoiler in the race between Senator Hassan and her Republican challenger, Don Bolduc, though Ms. Hassan won handily this time around.

“As Libertarians, we have the power to be kingmakers,” Ms. McArdle says. “But our goal is not to be spoilers. Our goal is to stand for libertarian values and to create a path where Libertarians can get elected.”

While 62 percent of Americans think a third party is needed, until the Libertarian Party starts winning major seats it will be difficult to shed the spoiler reputation. Ms. McArdle says one strategy she will be pursuing is to target states “where one of the two major parties have abandoned the political process.” She uses blood-red Alabama as an example. She also warns that if Republicans “hope to maintain their place as the Democrats’ main rival, they need to embrace libertarian values.”

Mr. Oliver laments that Georgia will have to hold an expensive runoff election, but he says it’s the state’s own fault for not adopting rank choice voting or an instant runoff procedure. He also says he won’t be endorsing either Messrs. Walker or Warnock, though he’d like to organize a forum for them to speak to independent and libertarian voters. He adds that blaming him is a bad strategy, because the winning candidate will need his voters to triumph. 

“Catch more flies with honey than vinegar folks,” he warns. 

The New York Sun

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