A State-Wide Strategy for Success
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the February 2000 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
Let's face it: the Libertarian Party has about as much control over Colorado politics as Hillary Clinton has over Slick Willie's sex drive.
Sure, we have some people in local offices, such as Doug Carlsten in the Brighton City Council and Bill Masters as San Miguel County Sheriff. But there's only so much room for libertarian political philosophy in local seats. What good is a libertarian in a position of, say, County Weed Control, as South Dakota boasts?
Will the LP ever move a player into the major leagues? For the Republicrats, local offices are usually place-holders for those with higher aspirations. Certainly many local posts afford the opportunity to cut taxes and regulations and extend the right to bear arms. But to have a significant impact in Colorado politics and earn a soap-box in the popular press, the LP needs to elect a member to the state legislature.
In a previous article, I discussed several possible strategies for individual candidates seeking state-wide office. But perhaps the best possibility for actually electing someone is for the state party to throw its full support behind a single candidate. If the LP could win just one seat in the Colorado legislature, it could then build upon that foundation and eventually gain a revered voice in state politics.
The LP would probably have to pick a state representative race rather than a senate race. Of paramount importance is the candidate. Only a smart, eloquent, and -- let's face it -- attractive candidate has a chance of winning.
Whether the LP picked a three-way race or a two-way race, it's important that the Republican in the race be a squish. Several Republicans in the Colorado legislature have definite libertarian leanings. The LP could never hope to win enough disgruntled Republican votes from such members. Besides, the attempt would damage the LP's image in the eyes of potential allies.
There are some advantages to running in a two-way race. Republicans wouldn't fear they were throwing the election to a Democrat by voting LP. Many moderate Republicans would stay home, giving activist Libertarians the edge. In addition, the LP would likely pick up a few Democratic votes as the only alternative to the GOP. A two-way race against a Democrat might also work (though of course such conditions are hard to find).
The main sticking point is abortion. Many gun-toting Republicans are also pro-life. Could a pro-choice Libertarian who strongly supports the right to bear arms win votes from a pro-life Republican with a squishy record on guns? That's a tough call. Of course, there are pro-choice Republicans and pro-life Libertarians, either of which would render the issue moot.
Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has said he will consider supporting a promising, principled Libertarian candidate against a squish Republican. Such an endorsement could mean recognition and needed funds. Brown has a few words of advice, however. He said that viable LP candidates cannot have the attitude, "I'm going to win because I'm right." Rather, if the LP wins it will be because of tactics.
Not only must a successful LP candidate for a state representative seat be willing to put in long hours campaigning door-to-door, but the party machinery (if that term can be used seriously) must be willing to lend heavy support for multiple, professional mailings and quality spin.
Lacking full party support (or unusual personal appeal and financial resources), it's highly unlikely that any LP candidate will win a state-wide office in the foreseeable future. That doesn't mean individual campaigns are a waste of time, however, if the candidate knows in advance his or her goals. If a candidate runs to win with inadequate resources, the race won't accomplish much. However, if a candidate intentionally runs on a wedge issue -- either drug legalization or the restoration of the right to bear arms -- or conducts a strictly educational campaign, the race will be successful even though another party wins the seat.
At most, only one LP candidate per election cycle can run to win a state-wide office, given the current size of the party. The party ought to pick a race carefully, either this year or in 2002, and push with all its might to get one candidate into the Colorado legislature.