Finally this week, some good news for Chet Culver: The Register's Kathie Obradovich devotes big column space to a third party contender.
Libertarian candidate for governor Eric Cooper pulled off a rare feat at a recent forum: He upstaged the major-party contenders... (Cooper) owned the audience at the Iowans for Tax Relief gubernatorial forum last Saturday. He left me wanting to know more about him.Both the speech and the column (plus this post, sure to be read by at least handfuls of Iowans) are big coups for the Libertarians, who usually go begging for coverage.
Choosing my words with tweezers here, because third party supporters take offense at the notion that their candidates are "spoilers" who "take votes away" from the major parties. A certain percentage, true, would write someone in, choose whatever third option they had, or just skip voting entirely.
But most people have second choices, and third party backers know this; it's one of the reasons they're big instant runoff voting fans. I've always thought that, all other things being equal, Libertarians draw about two I hate taxes Republican votes for every legalize weed liberal. (Greens, in contrast, draw just almost every vote from folks who think the Dems aren't progressive enough).
Statistically, Libertarians have outdone Greens in Iowa ince the two parties won official "organization" (a/k/a minor party) status in 2008. The state has 1,103 registered L's but only 485 Greens. There were 2,480 Greens in early 2003, when the Greens lost full party status, so they're way down from their Nader-era peak.
Democrats, in the post-2000 era, are really gun-shy about third parties. And we're in a defensive mood these days. But Republicans, in last year's special Congressional election in upstate New York, proved themselves willing to scuttle a moderate with the GOP label in favor of a Conservative Party candidate. The winner in that split was the Democrat.
Which is where Chet Culver comes in. With Christian conservatives already saying they'll sit on their hands rather than support Terry Branstad, could small-l libertarians join suit and throw a vote Cooper's way? Conversely, if Vander Plaats pulls the upset, will social moderates throw a protest vote the Libertarian's way? Either way, the beneficiary is Chester J., who is in close matchups with Vander Plaats and Rod Roberts (if not with Branstad).
"If we can get 10 percent on a regular basis, it forces the major parties to start stealing our issues in order to poach our voters,” Cooper told Iowans for Tax Relief. “If anyone wants to steal my issues, they’re yours.” Libertarians hit that mark in Wisconsin in 2002, under odd circumstances.
One way Cooper may NOT help Culver is the Iowa City wild card: a referendum to repeal the city's new 21 bar admission ordinance is likely to be on the ballot. Young people, not yet jaded by realpolitik, are more likely to support "can't win" third parties, and the bar referendum will boost campus turnout. (And what reaction, if any, will we see to the overkill dorm drug raid?)
Will top-of-ticket candidates be sucked into the bar battle? The dilemma for Democrats is that the bar issue, and the related drinking age issue, cuts across traditional ideological lines. Firm positions will win one set of supporters while alienating others. Expect a lot of dodgeball.