On Oct. 8, the Indiana Debate Commission staged a debate between candidates on the ballot for senator from Indiana, Republican Mike Braun, Democratic incumbent Joe Donnelly, and Libertarian Lucy Brenton. Lucy arguably won the debate, and invited people to follow her with the hashtag #ILoveLucy. Even Donnelly said, “I love Lucy too.”
This particular debate followed a formal structure that allowed equal time for each candidate to answer and follow up on each question. When Libertarian Party candidates have an opportunity to demonstrate their sensible, bridge-building policies of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance, their message resonates with voters who are tired of Democrats and Republicans engaging in tribal warfare over power.
The Libertarian Party commends the Indiana Debate Commission for including Brenton, who polled at 8 percent in a late August survey by Marist College. Most forecasters are calling Indiana a toss-up state, where Brenton will undoubtedly be labeled the spoiler … or even the winner.
In adjacent Illinois, Libertarian Party candidate for governor Kash Jackson was invited to debate his opponents, but the discussion did not follow any standard debate rules. It seemed to be structured more for entertainment value than for giving voters information about each candidate. As a result, the other three candidates on stage spent much of the time shouting down and interrupting each other. Jackson performed admirably, but was shortchanged on airtime — only seven minutes, compared to the 14 or 15 minutes that the Republican and Democratic candidates received.
At least Jackson was invited to appear on the debate stage. Exclusion from debates is an unfortunate norm for Libertarian Party candidates.
Jeff Caldwell, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor of Kansas, has raised a respectable $40,000 for his campaign. Unfortunately, the organizers of a Kansas State Fair debate invented a requirement for inclusion that candidates needed to have $50,000 in the bank — conveniently just out of reach. Caldwell also didn’t receive debate invitations from the Johnson County Bar Association or Women for Kansas.
Elinor Swanson is a Libertarian Party candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Montana, but was not invited to debate. W. Scott Howard is a Libertarian Party candidate for the U.S. House in Idaho, but despite his presence on the ballot he still received a form letter saying that he “did not show a demonstrable level of public interest and support.”
No candidate has been jerked around more by debate organizers this cycle than Dale Kerns, Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania. Kerns raised $35,000 during the third quarter of this year, a record for a third-party candidate in Pennsylvania. He was promised an invitation from the League of Women Voters for a debate to be held on Oct. 20, but WPVI, the television station airing the debate, later rescinded the invitation. They insisted on a polling level of 10 percent polling and “other factors” for debate inclusion.
“Libertarian Party registration has surged 92 percent in the last 10 years, according to Ballot Access News,” said Libertarian National Committee Executive Director Wes Benedict. “Democratic registration has decreased 8 percent and Republican registration dropped 4 percent in that decade. It’s clear that Libertarians are on the move and the dinosaur parties are fighting an increasingly dirty battle to exclude competitors to their duopoly — but voters are catching on. We expect a record midterm vote total for the approximately 800 Libertarian Party candidates for local, state, and federal office this year. We also anticipate a surprising number of victories.”