- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Dissatisfaction with the federal government is the highest it’s been since the turn of the century, trust in elected legislators is the lowest it’s ever been and the majority of Americans have said every year since 2007 that a third party is needed in politics, according to polls.

So why don’t more people vote for the nation’s largest third party after the Democrats and Republicans - the Libertarian Party?

Indiana has the second most Libertarians on ballots in the country, trailing only Texas, according to party officials.

But they still lose.

State political experts point to issues with fundraising and a political message that splits political beliefs in voters.

Libertarians ideologically embrace political, social and economic freedom. Typically, Libertarians support paring down the size and scope of government, embrace laissez faire capitalism and letting off social restrictions. Basically, the Libertarian Party is more socially liberal than Democrats and more fiscally conservative than the Republican Party.

In face of continual losses, eager candidates and party-members passionate about the party’s ethos press on in hopes of gaining enough traction - and enough votes - to win big.

This year nearly 70 Libertarians are seeking some form of office on ballots across the state, including five in Vanderburgh County.

Leading the local effort is Bart Gadau, a 38-year-old Bosse High graduate who heads the local chapter.

In 2012, Gadau lost against Rep. Larry Bucshon and Democrat Dave Crooks for the Indiana 8th District congressional seat. He knew he’d lose, but he wanted to get the party’s message out there, he told the Evansville Courier & Press (http://bit.ly/1tfEIhg ).

Indiana Libertarian Party Chairman Dan Drexler said, “Bart has been amazing bringing the party back together. The biggest difference in strategy is that he’s not just treating it as a Vanderburgh County, but it’s the entire region.”

Since Gadau took the reins, the party has grown and made a voice for itself locally.

“We’re growing and gain momentum,” he said.

Members of the Libertarian party were vocally against the large public subsidy for the Downtown convention hotel and made their voice heard during public forums. Gadau considered it a success that millions were cut from the project following the forums.

Other evidence the party is growing: straight-ticket voters. In 2012, 1,077 people voted a straight Libertarian ticket. That’s three times more than any midterm or presidential election in the last decade.

Gadau believes that while winning a larger election would bode well for the party overall, winning several small spots and increasing the recognition is equally beneficial.

“They’re young guys eager to learn about local politics. That’s why they’re running for advisory board. There’s not a lot of responsibility with that, but you get to learn about the spending habits of the townships and the county,” he said.

Despite being the country’s third largest political party and existing for 40 years, the party’s never earned a federally elected position, and hasn’t made huge gains in Indiana politics.

Drexler, as the party chair, hopes 2014 is the year the Indiana Libertarians make a strong showing.

“After 20 straight years of continuous ballot access, it would be in our interest to show some victories,” he said.

Andrew Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics, a nonpartisan group focused on helping people understand politics and government in Indiana, said there are two big setbacks for Hoosier Libertarians: money and ideology.

“Voters say they want a third party, but don’t vote for them,” he said.

The two-party system is a part of the American heritage, he said. According to polls, Downs is right that people want a third party. In September, Gallup reported 58 percent of responding Americans said a third party is needed, which is the something the majority has favored since 2007.

Even though the desire exists, that doesn’t mean the Libertarian Party will fill that role.

“If you look at the agenda of the Libertarian Party, part of it appeals very nicely to Republicans and parts to Democrats,” Downs said.

That’s a problem, he said. The parts that appeal to Democrats don’t necessarily appeal to Republicans - full legalization of marijuana or same-sex marriage. Having a party built on polarized opinions between the two major parties makes it difficult to pull from either - at least for older voters.

“I think the breadth of their appeal is a challenge for them. Millennials will find it more appealing than older voters. That’s still something for us to see,” he said.

But the big issue for Libertarians is money.

“You don’t have to have the most, but you do have to have enough to win an election. … As a voter, if I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what you stand for, how can I decide to vote for you?” Downs said.

The top Libertarians running for state office have raised barely any funds when compared with the opposition - some have raised no money.

John Schick, running for state auditor, and Mike Jasper, Libertarian candidate for state treasurer, have raised $0 this election, according to recently filed campaign finance reports.

Arguably the most important candidate for the Libertarian Party is secretary of state candidate Karl Tatgenhorst. He’s raised $3,565 this year. It’s not much when compared to his opponents, who collectively are sitting on more than $850,000 in campaign cash.

Tatgenhorst doesn’t need to win, though. He just needs a decent showing in the race to aid his party.

Due to Indiana law written and approved by the Democrats and Republicans, a third party has to receive 2 percent of the vote to get on the ballot in Indiana for the next four years without petitions.

The Libertarian party has had ballot access for 20 years now, said Drexler, and last midterm the party’s secretary of state candidate picked up 6 percent of the vote.

Drexler became defensive when asked about money-raising issues.

“People say money in politics is all bad, yet it’s always reported, ‘Well, you’re not competitive if you haven’t hit this threshold,’” he said. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to run a successful campaign. It does take some, but just because of the bigger war chest doesn’t mean a bigger win.”

Ideologically, many Libertarian candidates are opposed to the thought of money - especially corporate money or funds from a political action committees, Downs said.

The state party has $30,000 in the bank, more than it’s ever had, Drexler said.

“It doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re trying to print fliers, it’s nice,” he said.

Despite the odds, which he knows are steep, Drexler feels good about his party growth.

“We’re one of the top ten states for membership, we’re running the second most candidates in the nation and we’re headed toward the No. 1 state party for Facebook likes. I’m feeling pretty good,” Drexler said.

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Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com

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