Despite ongoing frustrations that Libertarian Party candidates are excluded from most political debates on both the national and local stages, dozens of candidates are moving forward on the party’s ticket in every congressional district and several state-wide and local elections in the state.
The candidates and party leaders say they must forge on with their campaigns in order to educate voters and spread their message of “maximum freedom, minimum government.”
Libertarians believe they are gaining ground in states like Colorado where unaffiliated voters make up a third of the state’s population. They say the two-party political machine that has been fueled by unlimited campaign contributions totaling billions of dollars has disenfranchised voters.
“I am looking forward to a lot of growth and a lot of interest because I think people are [interested],” said Jeff Orrok, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Colorado. “There needs to be more options, there’s just too much business as usual, and it doesn’t matter how bad things get, the Democrats and the Republicans are just business as usual.”
The campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are each expected to surpass the $1 billion mark when the parties and outside interests are added in. Obama and the Democratic National Committee reported raising $181 million just in September alone, and Republican Mitt Romney and the Republican National Committee reported raising $170.5 million in the same time period.
In comparison, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, reported raising only about $275,000 in September.
Libertarians, however, run grassroots, ground strategies to compensate for their inability to compete in fundraising. In addition to the seven congressional candidates in Colorado, the party is fielding two candidates for state Board of Education, three for University of Colorado regent, 12 candidates for state Senate, 43 candidates for state House, and two candidates for county commissioner.
Nominations were solidified at the party’s state convention in March.
The party shows 23,859 registered voters in Colorado, representing 0.65 percent of all registered voters in the state, according to filings through Oct. 19 with the Secretary of State’s office. In comparison, Democrats have 1,150,527 registered voters in Colorado, and Republicans 1,157,083.
But 4,885 of those Libertarian voters are labeled “inactive,” meaning they did not vote in the last even-year general election. Those voters could be ineligible to vote in the 2012 election if they did not update their registration status.
In comparison, there were only 14,987 registered Libertarians in Colorado at the end of 2010, representing a 59 percent increase this election cycle, thus demonstrating the party’s growth.
Given the expansion, Orrok cannot understand why Libertarians are not invited to all debates, both on the local and national levels.
“It would help to get our game going because this could well be when we make our big splash,” he said of his party’s messaging this year.
But Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call believes the system is working fine, noting that in the end, most Americans are going to make a choice between either a Republican or Democratic candidate.
“The Republican Party is open and welcoming for those different viewpoints, but it really comes down to a choice between two broad competing visions for the future of our state and country,” said Call.
A Libertarian or current minor- or third-party candidate has never been elected to the state Legislature, according to state biographical records of past and current lawmakers. But Libertarians remain hopeful that they might see success in House District 54 this year where Libertarian Tim Menger is running against embattled Republican Jared Wright.
Democrats never ran a candidate this year in the heavily Republican-leaning district, and Wright found himself immersed in trouble over several controversies, opening the door for Menger to compete competitively.
“Ever since my opponent got into trouble… it became real to me,” Menger recently told The Colorado Statesman. “I’ve put it in my mind that, ‘I can do this. I can do this.’”
But the major party chairs in Colorado don’t appear to be nervous about any race across the state or nation that could be impacted by a minor party candidate. Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, simply doesn’t believe candidates running without major parties stand much of a chance.
“I don’t see a huge impact in the state legislative races,” he said. “We have a strong two-party system… The impact is negligible in most instances.”
“Most people are voting for either Democrats or Republicans, and if they’re not registered as such, then there’s a strong likelihood… that they’re unaffiliated, so they’re not necessarily affiliated with a minor party,” added Palacio.
Call agreed. “People understand, especially in Colorado, how valuable and how important their vote is, and it’s going to be a vote to either have Mitt Romney as president and take this country in the right direction, or a vote for Barack Obama and four more years of the same.”
Libertarians battle on in congressional districts
Libertarians, however, are not in denial about their uphill battle. They acknowledge that fundraising has been so slow that only two of their seven congressional candidates have met the threshold at which they must file federal campaign finance reports: Josh Gilliland of Strasburg, who is running in the 4th Congressional District, and Jim Pirtle of Colorado Springs, candidate in the 5th Congressional District.
But it’s not about fundraising or immediately winning races, explain the candidates. It’s more about positioning the party for success years down the road, and also offering voters a choice.
In terms of the economy, Libertarians would like to shrink military spending on operations overseas, cut back on domestic budgetary spending and foreign borrowing to reduce the deficit, and reform the tax code to eliminate income and corporate taxes and replace it with a consumption tax.
In terms of social issues, Libertarians are focused on ending the federal prohibition on marijuana and allowing gay people to marry.
Those principles appear to remain constant between Libertarian candidates across the board.
Gilliland, who shows only $148 cash in the bank and $1,072 in net contributions, according to the federal filings through Oct. 24, agrees that his campaign is more about preparing for the future.
In CD 4, there are 2,573 Libertarian voters, about 0.53 percent of all registered voters in the district. In comparison, there are 114,972 Democrats registered to vote and 199,685 Republicans registered to vote in the district.
“I’m asking [voters] to be brave enough to break from their previous habits; to be brave enough to vote for candidates who quite frankly are probably not going to win,” said Gilliland, a telecommunications program manager. “But it takes bravery, because you are breaking away from the mainstream to truly let your voice be heard.”
He has actually been more fortunate than some other Libertarian candidates, having landed himself invitations to at least three debates in CD 4 where he went up against incumbent Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Democratic challenger Brandon Shaffer of Longmont, who is currently finishing his term as state Senate president. Also competing is American Constitution Party candidate Doug Aden.
Taking into account that the Libertarian Party has its roots in Colorado — having been established in the Westminster living room of long-time Colorado resident David Nolan in 1971 — Gilliland says Coloradans seem more accepting of his party’s values.
“The Colorado mentality is that we can take care of ourselves. We’ve got it, we don’t need outside intervention into how we’re living our lives,” explained Gilliland. “That’s just kind of the Colorado way.”
Pirtle, a long-time political activist and businessman, agrees that his campaign in CD 5 is going better than expected. Still, Pirtle only reported $272 in the bank, with $3,818 in net contributions, as of filings through Oct. 24.
In his CD 5, 3,313 voters are registered with the Libertarian Party, representing 0.66 percent of all registered voters in the district. There are 110,370 registered Democrats and 208,696 registered Republicans in the district.
But Pirtle still feels certain frustrations from being overshadowed by the major political parties.
“It doesn’t matter to me who a person votes for,” declared Pirtle. “But sometimes a person doesn’t look at a candidate’s position. They just look for an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ behind the name. And that’s one thing that I’m trying to combat right now.”
Perhaps the greatest uphill battle for Libertarians is in the 1st Congressional District where Frank Atwood is taking on Democratic incumbent Diana DeGette, a chief deputy whip who has served the district since 1997, earning her the title of dean of the Colorado congressional delegation.
In CD 1, 4,312 Libertarians are registered, accounting for about 0.75 percent of voters in the district. There are 253,475 Democrats and 110,124 Republicans registered to vote in the district.
But DeGette’s lock on the district makes it highly unlikely that any candidate other than her will win.
Also running in that race is Republican challenger Danny Stroud and Green Party candidate Gary Swing. Thomas Henry Juniel is also running as a write-in unaffiliated candidate.
Atwood, a Littleton resident and community activist, acknowledges that he has no chance of defeating DeGette this fall as a “fringe candidate,” but he says his campaigning serves to raise awareness for his party’s presidential candidate.
“My message is to encourage voters to look at Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson. I feel that he is the best candidate that Colorado has,” said Atwood.
Libertarians have nominated Randy Luallin of Louisville to compete against incumbent Jared Polis, D-Boulder, in the 2nd Congressional District, where there are 4,733 Libertarians registered to vote, about 0.79 percent of all registered voters in the district. There are 193,749 Democrats and 166,344 Republicans registered in the district.
The Republican challenger is state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. Also running is Green Party candidate Susan Hill.
Following redistricting last year, CD 2 now includes about 43 percent of voters from Republican-leaning Larimer County, meaning Polis is facing more of a challenge this year, though he still holds an advantage.
But Luallin believes he stands a good chance of at least putting up a fight in CD 2, where he believes voters are moderate.
“I tell people that the Libertarian Party is the party of balance,” states Luallin. “We carry the best of both the Republican and Democratic Party. We’re fiscally conservative and very socially accepting.”
When interviewed by The Colorado Statesman, Luallin paused from working on an old military commercial utility cargo vehicle — an M1009 — that he had converted to run on vegetable oil.
“I realized I have a civic duty if [the Libertarian Party] is wanting to nominate me and they’re showing confidence in me. I have a civic duty to at least put my best effort forward for my children and my children’s children,” Luallin stated.
Custer County Libertarian Greg Gilman is running in the 3rd Congressional District, where 3,023 voters are registered as Libertarians, accounting for about 0.58 percent of all registered voters in the district. There are 156,008 Democrats registered in the district and 180,410 Republicans.
Gilman is challenging incumbent Scott Tipton, R-Cortez. He is also facing Democratic state Rep. Sal Pace of Pueblo. Also running is unaffiliated candidate Tisha Casida and write-in candidates Jaime McMillan and Dale Reed.
“It’s mostly the fiscal irresponsibility,” Gilman said about why he got into the race. “There’s a huge amount of debt that continues year after year. We need leadership in Washington that can address those issues.”
The Libertarians’ youngest congressional candidate is Patrick Provost, a 26-year-old student and Army veteran who entered the race in the 6th Congressional District after also be-coming frustrated with politics as usual.
Provost, an Aurora resident, is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Coffman, also of Aurora. The Democratic challenger is state Rep. Joe Miklosi of Denver. Independent candidates John Degraffenried and Kathy Polhemus are also competing.
The race in the 6th CD has been fueled by big money. Coffman has $1.1 million in the bank, as of the latest federal campaign finance filings through Oct. 24, and he has received more than $2.6 million in net contributions. Miklosi has $128,366 in the bank, as of the latest filings, and has received about $1.4 million in contributions.
The district was redrawn last year, offering a more competitive game to Democrats after Coffman lost all or part of several Republican-leaning counties, including Elbert, Douglas, Park and Jefferson. Redistricting also added all of Aurora, resulting in a one-third equal split between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters.
There are 2,720 registered Libertarians in the district, accounting for about 0.57 percent of all registered voters. Democrats total 154,888 registered voters and Republicans represent 156,252 registered voters.
Provost says it has been difficult to distinguish himself as a result of the onslaught of attacks between the Republican and Democratic candidates, but he says he is fighting anyway.
“Short of actually going out there and shaking people’s hands and knocking on doors, there’s no real way to get your name out there anymore…” he said. “It just reaffirms to me why we need to get voters a better choice; a stronger choice than just the two.”
Finally, Aurora resident Buck Bailey is challenging incumbent Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, in the 7th Congressional District. Bailey attempted his first challenge against Perlmutter in 2010. He’s back to try it again.
The Republican candidate this year is beer baron Joe Coors. Also running is American Constitution Party candidate Doug “Dayhorse” Campbell.
There are 3,185 registered voters in CD 7, about 0.65 percent of all registered voters in the district. There are 167,065 registered Democrats and 135,572 Republicans in the district.
As with CD 6, major campaign spending has also fueled the race in CD 7. Perlmutter had $229,910 in the bank, according to the latest federal campaign filings through Oct. 24, after receiving more than $2.4 million in net contributions and spending about $2.3 million. Coors had $91,198 in the bank, after receiving more than $3 million in net contributions and spending just under $3 million.
Bailey believes that the amount of spending and advertising — including vicious attack ads — that has been taking place in his district by Coors and Perlmutter is just proof that the political system is more about marketing than issues.
“I sure wish it would get back to the actual issues,” he said. “It just points out that there’s not much difference on where they’re going to take us. It’s just which personality can win the popularity contest.”