Libertarians could gain traction in Iowa from dislike for Trump, Clinton
Party chairman: 'People are looking for another option'
James Q. Lynch
CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa Libertarians believe there is a silver lining to the 2016 presidential race, which they say features two highly unpopular major-party candidates.
“Iowans don’t like either major-party candidate,” says Keith Laube, Libertarian Party of Iowa (www.lpia.org) chairman. “Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are so disconnected from the American public that people are looking for another option.”
If 2016 is the year people vote for the candidate, not the party, Laube is optimistic that a better-than-ever showing by the Libertarian presidential candidate in November will help establish the party as a viable alternative to two-party gridlock.
The Newton civil engineer thinks the Libertarian ticket of former GOP governors Gary Johnson of New Mexico and William Weld of Massachusetts (www.johnsonweld.com) will appeal to Iowa voters who are Libertarian “at heart (because) they don’t want to pay a lot of taxes and they want government to be efficient, but at the same time, they don’t want to lose their freedoms.”
The challenge may be to change voting habits, says Chris Larimer, who teaches political science at the University of Northern Iowa.
“Regular voters who identify with a political party are going to have a hard time overcoming their partisan loyalties,” Larimer says.
Laube acknowledges “it’s hard to get people to go outside their boundaries.” However, “voting for the best candidate, the candidate who is best for me and my community, is the only way to get good people in office.”
Even if the Johnson-Weld ticket doesn’t win, Laube believes it will help the state party achieve practical and incremental goals. If Johnson-Weld can get at least 2 percent of the Iowa vote, Libertarians will be recognized by the Iowa Secretary of State as a political party rather than as a non-party political organization. In short, Libertarians will be treated like the Democratic and Republican parties.
“That would give us a lot of credibility,” says Jake Porter, a new business consultant from Council Bluffs, who is a 2018 Libertarian candidate for governor. “It would make things more interesting.”
Johnson isn’t on the Iowa ballot yet, but Marco Battaglia, a campaign volunteer who worked on campaigns for Barack Obama and both Ron Paul and Rand Paul, says the candidate has the 1,500 signatures needed. Volunteers hope to get at least 2,200 before submitting the petition to the Secretary of State.
Iowa Libertarians are having a banner year. Laube, public works director for the city of Newton who is running for the Jasper County Board of Supervisors, and Porter expect to have at least 28 candidates for president, Congress and the Iowa Legislature.
Libertarians, who Laube explains favor a fiscally conservative and “socially accepting” platform, have been making slight gains in recent elections. The party’s run more candidates and seen their share of vote increase since 2000 when Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne received 3,209 votes in Iowa or 0.24 percent. It dipped to 2,992 votes in 2004 before rising to 4,950 votes, 0.32 percent, in 2008.
The high water mark was 2012, when Johnson received 12,926 or 0.81 percent of the Iowa vote total. Still, that’s far from the 2 percent needed for Libertarians to be recognized as a political party.
“We’re a growing party,” Laube says, pointing to the number of Libertarian candidates and about 10 active county party organizations. “We have a long ways to go. This is a small piece, but that’s how grass fires start.”
Electing a couple of Libertarian candidates would be a big help, Laube says. He hopes that happens this year.
Given how disliked Trump and Clinton are, University of Iowa political scientist Tim Hagle says 2016 “would seem the opportune time.”
Unfortunately, he adds, Johnson “isn’t very charismatic and really isn’t taken seriously by some on the right.”
Johnson might be able to break through in the coming 80-plus days or an outside event — an economic downturn or terrorist event — might shake up the race, Hagle says.
“As much as some argue that there really aren’t that many truly undecided voters in presidential elections, I think that percentage is much higher this time because of the flaws in the two major party candidates,” he says.
Even if Johnson breaks through, it may not translate to down-ballot races, says Barbara Trish, chairwoman of the political science department at Grinnell College.
“Even if Libertarian candidates get on the ballot, voters are very willing to split their ticket, so a draw in the presidential contest may not translate into a Libertarian vote at the state legislative level,” she said.
Libertarian candidates currently on the ballot in Iowa (the filing deadline is Aug. 19):
U.S. Senate: Chuck Aldrich, Clarion
US House 3rd District: Bryan Jack Holder, Council Bluffs
Senate 6: Nick Serianni, Alta
Senate 12: Don Brantz, Glenwood
Senate 38: John George, Marengo
Senate 48: Brian Cook, Manchester
House 20: Bob Boyle, Perry
House 31: Joe Gleason, Des Moines
House 32: Seth Bartmess, Des Moines
House 33: Jeremy Tomlinson, Des Moines
House 38: Jeffrey Meyers, Ankeny
House 45: Eric Cooper, Ames
House 70: Dave Cork, Cedar Rapids
House 78, Joshua Miller, Washington
House 97: David Mechert Jr., Grand Mound