- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The list includes a humorist, an Army reservist and a pizza delivery driver. They run to the right of Republicans or to the left of Democrats, and sometimes as libertarians who run simultaneously in both directions.

Independent and third-party candidates are on ballots in nearly every key Senate race this year, drawing support away from the Democratic and Republican nominees and potentially holding the power to decide which of the two major parties wins control of the upper chamber next month.

With poll numbers consistently in the low single digits, third-party hopefuls have virtually no chance of winning in states such as Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa and Kentucky, where the major party candidates are locked in tight contests, but they nevertheless remain factors.

From the perspectives of Democratic and Republican candidates, third-party candidates are potential spoilers.

In the tight Senate race in North Carolina, for example, Libertarian Party candidate Sean Haugh garnered about 4 percent of the vote in a Suffolk University poll last week.

Mr. Haugh, who delivers pizza and works part time reselling books on Amazon, is running as an anti-war deficit hawk and has been luring supporters away from incumbent Democrat Sen. Kay R. Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis.

PHOTOS: Senate control could be decided by third-party candidates

Mr. Haugh insisted that he is not a spoiler in the race.

“There are only three people in North Carolina who could possibly be the next U.S. senator, and I’m one of them,” he told The Washington Times. “However many votes I get — win or lose — that’s a message to the Democrats and Republicans that they are going to have to become more libertarian and they are going to have to become more peaceful if they want to appeal to those voters in the future.”

Giving voters alternatives

He said most of his supporters are fed up with both of the major parties and likely won’t back either Ms. Hagan or Mr. Tillis. “I’m giving people a reason to show up,” he said. “If I wasn’t on the ballot, a lot of people who are considering voting for me would skip it.”

The contest between Ms. Hagan and Mr. Tillis remains close, with Ms. Hagan leading Mr. Tillis 47 percent to 45 percent in the same Suffolk poll.

Further complicating the race, former state Rep. John Rhodes has launched a write-in campaign as a tea party alternative to Mr. Tillis.

“John Rhodes will definitely take votes away from Tillis,” said Vallee Bubak, a conservative activist in Lake Norman, a bedroom community about 30 miles north of Charlotte.

The spoiler accusation also has been leveled in Louisiana against Republican Rob Maness, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel who is running as the conservative alternative to Rep. Bill Cassidy, the official Republican nominee.

The Republicans are vying against each other and their chief target, incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu, in the state’s open election in November. None of the candidates is expected to garner the more than 50 percent of votes required under state law to avoid a December runoff election.

Polls show Mr. Maness receiving 4 percent to 12 percent of the vote, helping force a runoff between Ms. Landrieu and Mr. Cassidy.

Mr. Maness’ supporters have argued against calls for him to quit the race by citing election law that would keep him on the ballot but disqualify votes he received, which would diminish the number of ballots and make it easier for Ms. Landrieu to get 50 percent.

“If putting more than 80,000 miles on his truck to visit every parish and talk directly to voters is what’s considered a ‘spoiler’ in the race, then that just shows how backwards things have gotten in Washington,” said Maness campaign spokesman Jon Meadows.

Gaining momentum

Other third-party and independent candidates also say they are scraping for votes just like the Democrats and Republicans on the ballots. Third parties, especially the Libertarians, are gaining momentum nationwide.

The Libertarian Party has candidates on ballots in 21 of 36 U.S. Senate races, including a dozen contests that will decide whether Republicans can net the six seats needed to seize majority control of the chamber.

Some independent candidates rate as more than long shots. In Kansas, the Democratic nominee dropped out to give independent businessman Greg Orman a good chance at unseating longtime Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. Some polls give Mr. Orman the edge. And former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, has recently made it a three-way battle for the open South Dakota Senate seat with Republican Mike Rounds, a former governor, and Democrat Rick Weiland.

Gary Nolan, a former candidate for the Libertarian presidential nomination, said the Republican Party has only itself to blame if it loses votes to a third-party candidate and misses its chance of capturing a Senate majority.

“The Republicans may cause those losses but not the Libertarians,” said Mr. Nolan, a syndicated radio talk show host. “Just because someone presents a better alternative for voters doesn’t mean that they are a spoiler. It just means that you’re not doing what your supposed to do as a candidate and you’re losing support.”

In Colorado, humorist and Libertarian candidate Gaylon Kent got 2 percent of the vote in a Suffolk University poll last month. That is enough to affect the outcome of the neck-and-neck race between incumbent Democrat Mark Udall and Republican challenger Rep. Cory Gardner.

The same survey showed just 1 percentage point separating the major party candidates, with Mr. Gardner leading Mr. Udall 43 percent to 42 percent.

The Libertarian candidate in Alaska, retired Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Mark Fish, is taking about 3 percent of the vote as incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich struggles to hold on to his Senate seat.

Mr. Begich trailed Republican Dan Sullivan, a lawyer and retired Marine Corps officer, 44 percent to 40 percent last week in a Fox News poll.

Independent candidate Ted Gianoutsos, who is running almost exclusively on his pledge to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, took another 1 percent of the vote in the poll.

Not included in the polling but on the Alaska ballot is independent Sid Hill, whom the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman in Wasilla described as a gadfly who often can be found on street corners holding a sign calling for impeachment of President Obama.

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