EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 7, 2012

Editorial: Libertarians play spoiler in two big races

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — “Fringe” candidates often get short shrift from the media in the public, but in at least two election contests this week they showed their ability to have a huge impact on the outcome of closely watched, and heavily financed, races. In both cases, the fringe appeal of the relatively poorly financed Libertarian Party was a race-spoiler for Republicans.

The most notable example was the race in Massachusetts between Democratic Congressman John Tierney and Republican Richard Tisei in the 6th District. It was an extremely close race, with Tisei finally conceding 18 hours after the polls closed.

Tierney garnered 48.3 percent of the vote, and Tisei 47.3 percent of the vote. The other 4.4 percent — a margin that guaranteed Tierney a win — went to Daniel Fishman, a Libertarian. Certainly, Fishman’s smaller-government political ideology is closer to the Republican platform than the Democratic platform. It’s safe to assume that had Fishman not been in the race, the bulk of his votes would have floated to Tisei, and perhaps today it would be Tisei who is heading to Washington.

Fishman was a little-known, politically inexperienced candidate who held to the Libertarian message that government should be less obtrusive in people’s lives, and that neither the Democratic nor the Republican party holds to the principals of freedom set down by the founding fathers. This software engineer made a big impact in one of the nation’s most closely watched congressional races.

An almost identical situation occurred in New Hampshire’s 1st District. Democrat Carol Shea-Porter won back her former seat by defeating Republican Congressman Frank Guinta. The margin was not quite as close as in the Tierney-Tisei race — Shea-Porter had 49 percent, and Guinta had 46 percent.

Once again, it was the fringe candidate who made the difference. Seabrook’s Brendan Kelly, a Libertarian, grabbed the remaining 5 percent of votes, a margin that likely would have pushed Guinta over the top had those votes fallen to him.

So we have two races in which Democrats won with the aid of the Libertarian wildcard. And in both cases, the winner did not get 50 percent of the total vote — the majority of voters cast ballots for someone other than the Democratic victor. But a win is a win, no matter how marginal it may be.

The Libertarian Party is indeed on the fringe of American political thought, but it has demonstrated that it is a force to be reckoned with, if only for its ability to undermine the GOP.

Perhaps Libertarians need to consider if their futile candidacies, which serve only to elect Democrats, are really in their long-term interests. They might do better to forgo the larger races for now — where they seem to top out around 5 percent of the vote — and instead try to win smaller contests at the state and local level. Then Libertarians would build the name recognition and legislative records they need to have a real chance at higher office.