Libertarian Party sees opportunity in GOP fractures
Republican Senate Candidate Joe Miller did something unusual on Thursday: He spoke out in support of party that was not his own. The comments concerned the Libertarian Party, which could be in a position to gain converts from some dissent within the state GOP.
As the state’s biggest organized political party, the GOP represents plenty of different sects. There are big businessmen, and small businessmen, religious conservatives, Tea Partiers, and a slew of other subgroups.
The state’s Libertarian Party is not so big. Its membership has hovered around 7,000 voters since the Division of Elections began tracking their registration in the late 1990s. But there may be a perk to that: With fewer members, you can have more cohesion.
“It’s obvious the GOP is fractured. Everyone is well aware of that,” says Brad Leavitt, Alaska Libertarian Party vice chair and chair of its platform committee. “And to be honest, we’re reaping the benefits. People are coming over, and they’re disgruntled.”
Leavitt says he’s one of those guys. He only joined the Libertarian Party a year ago, and he often voted for Republican candidates before that.
Now, Leavitt says he’s seeing more interest in his party from the Ron Paul faction of the GOP. That group took over the GOP in 2012 in a coup, but then lost control a year later to the establishment wing.
Because the Republican Party and the Libertarian Party platforms have a lot of things in common, Leavitt sees the organization appealing to some the insurgents who might feel marginalized in the Republican Party. And one of the biggest position differences between the two parties was recently taken out by the Libertarians. Where the Republicans have an anti-abortion plank in their platform, the Libertarian position was that government should stay out of abortion.
Leavitt says the decision to remove it from the platform was:
“To make it an individual choice. Be it the individual’s decision one way or another. It’s the same for the candidate — not pigeonhole any candidate to say you must be this way or you must be that way. It’s just it’s about liberty.”
That could make his party friendly to some of the Republican dissidents, including one big one: Joe Miller.
A U.S. Senate candidate in a three-way Republican Primary, Miller has had a strained relationship with the Alaska GOP over the years. While he has said he has no intention of running as anything but a Republican, Miller also rejected a pledge to support his Senate rivals if he loses the primary.
Miller is running against Dan Sullivan, a former attorney general and natural resources commissioner for the state, and Mead Treadwell, the sitting lieutenant governor. Sullivan has come out ahead in a recent primary poll, and he has also raised over $2 million since joining the race, putting him ahead of Miller and Treadwell.
This week, Miller raised eyebrows when he sent out a press release criticizing Mark Begich for remarks the Democratic Senator made about Libertarians in an interview. Miller argued that Begich was misrepresenting the Libertarian Party for political benefit, and Miller also stated he was “proud to share … values with the Alaska Libertarian Party.”
While Miller was traveling on Friday and could not be reached, Leavitt says there is no arrangement for Miller to run as a Libertarian should Miller’s Republican bid fail. But the Libertarian Party is open to the idea.
“We’d entertain it,” says Leavitt. “We’d talk with him — see what his thoughts and intentions are.”
The Alaska Republican Party is not so open to this.
Party Chair Peter Goldberg says the whole strategy would be self-defeating for conservatives.
“If one of the losers of the Republican Party tried to run anyway, it will hurt the winner of the Republican primary,” says Goldberg. “Surely some votes will move, and if it’s just enough, that means Begich wins again.”
Goldberg adds that his party has space for Libertarian-minded members.
Earlier this month, the Republican Party changed its rules to make takeovers by party dissidents less likely.
The Libertarian Party still has not named its Senate candidate.