- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) - U.S. Senate candidate Sean Haugh relishes his current job delivering pizzas because it brings joy to hungry families anticipating his arrival.

But the former Libertarian Party leader from Durham also enjoys take out - more specifically taking out North Carolina from under a two-party system he says narrows messages voters receive and breeds candidates who must rely on outside groups for campaign funds and support to be successful.

“We have two corporate special-interest candidates, and there’s me,” Haugh said in an interview.

Haugh and other Libertarian leaders are hopeful his candidacy in November will mark the most successful showing ever for the party in a North Carolina statewide election.

Some polls have shown him receiving a percentage of the vote in the high single digits. Even getting 2 or 3 percent, like the Libertarian candidates for U.S. Senate in 2008 and 2010, could be enough to alter the outcome of the tight race between Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.

“I am here to provide an alternative that other people really aren’t hearing,” Haugh said during his only television debate appearance in Wilmington. “I get to go all across the political spectrum, to all different kinds of audiences, with the exact same message - stop all war and stop spending more money that we have.”

The optimism reflects recent progress for North Carolina’s only other certified state party, which preaches limited government and staying out of people’s personal business, as well as low approval numbers for his two competitors.

For decades, the state Libertarian Party had to collect tens of thousands of signatures routinely to keep its candidates on the ballot because nominees for governor or president didn’t receive the 10 percent of the vote needed to remain an official party. When they fell short, state officials converted registered Libertarian voters to unaffiliated.

After a lawsuit, the legislature reduced the candidate threshold to 2 percent of the vote.

The Libertarian candidates for governor in 2008 and 2012 exceeded that percentage, allowing party registration to reach a record 25,000 as of late last week. That’s still just 0.4 percent of all registered voters, but current state party Chairman J.J. Summerell said the future is bright because a majority of those registered are under age 35. Unaffiliated voters, now comprising 27 percent of registrants, also are ripe for giving their support in elections.

David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College, said Haugh could get 4 or 5 percent of the vote. The best North Caroilna Libertarian performance came in 1992, when Scott McLaughlin received 4 percent in the governor’s race.

The Libertarian Party is “not seen as unusual anymore,” McLennan said. “They’re considered to be a mainstream political party right now.”

Haugh, 53, has raised little money and emphasizes discount campaigning though social media, particularly through short YouTube videos in which he discusses his viewpoints. He usually stares into the camera with a “Howdy” and a glass of beer in his hand or on the counter.

“I’m really hoping to try to make that connection with people, and get people interested in the political debate again,” he said.

Haugh was one of the pillars of the state party for years and later worked as political director of the Libertarian National Committee. He previously ran for U.S. Senate in 2002, getting 1.5 percent of the vote. Haugh said he returned to the public arena earlier this year because, he quipped, he wanted a choice that he’d feel good about. He defeated previous Republican congressional candidate Tim D’Annunzio in the party’s second statewide primary ever.

Haugh disagrees Tillis will be hurt by his candidacy most because he won the GOP primary over Greg Brannon, who had strong libertarian leanings. There are disaffected Democrats, too, who may be tired of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and appreciate Haugh’s support for gay marriage and abortion rights. With other changes elsewhere, such as liberalization of marijuana laws, public policy is aligning more with his party’s principles, Haugh said.

“We see an electorate that is much more naturally libertarian,” he said.

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