Southerners are downright feisty about their independence.
There’s a great sign at a park on the Alabama-Tennessee border that proclaims “We Dare Defend Our Rights!” Yet this rebellious streak doesn’t seem to translate to independent candidates or third party challengers, who tend to fare poorly in Dixie. That may be changing as the Libertarian Party appeals to Southerners in general and Georgians in particular.
Several years ago, I attended a conference at the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. A presenter showed us data on how poorly independents and third party challengers have performed in the South. Texas tycoon H. Ross Perot, Illinois Congressman John Anderson and others have received fewer Southern votes than most other regions.
Sure there have been Dixiecrats like South Carolina’s Strom Thurmond, and former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who won Southern states. But doesn’t it say something that these men have failed to win more than a few of the Southern states?
The Libertarian Party might be changing that, and it all started with Georgia eight years ago. Of course there was a Libertarian Party before that time. But in the 2008 election, a former Georgia congressman, as well as a Senate candidate, changed all that. In that year, ex-Congressman Bob Barr became the Libertarian standard-bearer, faring much better than most candidates from his party in the presidential race, even though the nation followed the tight Obama-McCain contest.
The other was attorney and CPA Allen Buckley, the Libertarian nominee for the U.S. Senate. Despite the presence of an incumbent U.S. senator on the ticket, and an experienced state senator, Buckley garnered enough votes to force Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin into a runoff, and for Republicans and Democrats to seek the support of Libertarians for the tie-breaking vote nearly a month after Obama prevailed. Buckley is running again in 2016.
But was 2008 a fluke? The national average for Libertarian votes is about 0.5-1 percent in presidential contests and 1-2 percent in Senate and Congressional races – I have no data for U.S. gubernatorial averages for Libertarian candidates, so I used Senate performance in the state as a proxy for statewide average. Georgia candidates ranging from Allen Buckley to John Monds to Andrew Hunt to Amanda Swafford have made or exceeded national averages, and twice – 1992, 2008 – thrown the Senate race into a runoff.
It is also noteworthy that former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, in getting 1.16 percent of Georgia votes in 2012, nearly doubled the vote total of Barr, a Georgian. That is significant.
Imagine if the Libertarian Party got 5 percent, of the vote to qualify for Federal Matching Funds, which would enable the party to get more recognition, recruit more followers, and make the 2020 debates, which would only increase the visibility of the party with real national exposure. Since this is the decision of taxpayers to voluntarily contribute to the matching fund, I see no reason why this violates any Libertarian beliefs. A visit to Georgia, especially to college campuses, should help, as several students consider themselves to be strong libertarians.
To determine whether college visits would help, I interviewed LaGrange College presidential student ambassador Matt Crawford, a campus leader, who said, “Millennials are ready for a change. We are tired of the old two party system where it seems we all lose.
“The other day I was discussing the current presidential election with a group of fellow college students. These individuals ranged from far left to far right, but we all had one thing in common, none of us were very crazy about the Republican or Democrat nominees.
“During the course of our discussion, the Johnson-Weld ticket was brought up and almost every student agreed that not only were they the best qualified, but they had the best policy as well. Millennials are ready for something different. They are ready for the third party option that Gov. Johnson has to offer.”
If you are interested, come to the Dickson Assembly Room in Turner Hall at LaGrange College at 11:15 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, to hear 2016 Senate candidate Buckley speak. We would love to see you there.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at [email protected]