Third Candidates Could Tilt Races

From USA Today...

Carl Romanelli has never run for office and belongs to a political organization that has never elected anyone to Congress. Even so, the Green Party candidate’s U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania has Democratic leaders manning battle stations.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., head of his party’s Senate campaign committee, charged at a news conference last week that there is “huge evidence of fraud” in the petitions Romanelli submitted to qualify for the Nov. 7 ballot, which the Green Party candidate disputes. Schumer said Democrats are “working hard” to keep Romanelli off the ballot.

Party leaders are worried that Romanelli, a retired family court aide, could siphon enough votes from their candidate, Bob Casey, to ensure the re-election of Republican Rick Santorum. Republicans are thinking the same thing: Romanelli’s petition drive was underwritten with the help of Santorum contributors, with the blessing of the senator’s campaign.

The fight in Pennsylvania is not an isolated case. In a year when control of Congress is at stake and key races could be close, there’s a chance that little-known minor-party candidates such as Romanelli could alter the political landscape.

Richard Winger, who monitors minor-party campaigns for his newsletter, Ballot Access News, says Libertarian Party candidates have helped Democrats in recent years win or hold three Senate seats targeted by Republicans. Those races were the 1998 re-election of Harry Reid of Nevada, now the Senate Democratic leader; the 2000 victory of Maria Cantwell in Washington; and Tim Johnson’s re-election to a second term in South Dakota in 2002.

Winger says all three won by fewer votes than the number cast for Libertarian candidates in those races, meaning the Republican candidates might have won if the Libertarians, who tend to attract conservative voters, hadn’t been on the ballot.

“Nothing like that happened in 2004, but it might this year,” Winger says. According to his tally, there are minor-party or independent candidates on the ballot in at least 10 Senate and six gubernatorial elections that are potentially competitive, as well as a host of House races.

Some of this year’s more likely spoilers:

• In Alaska, Andrew Halcro, a former state legislator and “life-long registered Republican” is running as an independent for governor in a three-way race. Republican Sarah Palin, former mayor of Wasilla, knocked off Gov. Frank Murkowski in the GOP primary Aug. 22. Democrat Tony Knowles is trying for a comeback after serving two terms as governor from 1994 to 2002. “I could legitimately pull from both sides,” Halcro says.

• In Illinois, Bill Scheurer is running under the “Moderate Party” banner in a race where Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean is struggling to fight off a challenge from Republican investment banker David McSweeney. Scheurer has picked up endorsements from some major unions unhappy with Bean. Among labor donors to Scheurer’s campaign: the Teamsters, United Steelworkers, Service Employees International Union and UNITE, which represents clothing and textile workers.

Scheurer, who is running as an anti-war candidate, has two children in the military, including a son just back from Iraq. He says he collected 15,000 signatures to get on the ballot and had to beat back “a sustained effort to keep us off.”

• In Texas, voters in a suburban Houston district formerly represented by Tom DeLay will see two names on the ballot on Election Day: Democrat Nick Lampson and Libertarian Bob Smither. The federal courts would not allow Republicans to name a replacement for DeLay, the primary winner who resigned from the House in June to deal with charges that he illegally funneled corporate donations to 2002 state legislative races. DeLay has said he did nothing wrong. The GOP is urging a write-in vote for Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a Houston city councilwoman.

Smither, who says he “started as a Goldwater Republican,” acknowledges that he and Sekula-Gibbs may split conservative votes and allow Lampson to win. Former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, a Republican, has endorsed Smither, but the local GOP won’t do the same. “It seems like they would rather have a liberal Democrat than a conservative Libertarian,” Smither says.

In Pennsylvania, Romanelli needs 67,000 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the ballot. He turned in about 90,000 names. Romanelli readily admits that he “took money from Republican individuals.” He says he used the money to pay people to gather signatures.

“We were able to get into some very deep pockets,” he says. “I make no apologies.”

Without the GOP donations, Romanelli says, he would not have been able “to bring my left-wing ideas into the debate.” Larry Smar, a spokesman for Casey’s campaign, predicts the examination of Romanelli’s petitions will turn up enough duplicate signatures and names of unregistered voters to disqualify Romanelli. The Democrats’ fraud charges are “a bunch of toilet paper,” Green Party spokesman Jennaro Pullano says.

Democrats are wary that Romanelli’s campaign could spoil one of their best shots at taking over a Republican Senate seat in a year when they need six more to take control of the chamber. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll last week showed Casey with a double-digit lead over Santorum, but other polls have showed the Republican incumbent gaining ground. Don Morabito, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, says he expects the race to tighten.

“We have to be careful. We anticipate a close election. We have to act as if it does matter,” Morabito says of Romanelli’s candidacy. At the Casey campaign, Smar questions why Santorum has encouraged donors to underwrite the Green Party’s petition drive. “There’s something really fishy going on here,” he says.

Unlike Casey and Santorum, Romanelli favors abortion rights. He opposes the Iraq war, wants to eliminate congressional pensions, and describes Casey’s positions on issues as “Santorum-esque.”

Schumer says Santorum is using Romanelli and the Green Party: “The fact that it was the Republican Party infrastructure that had to help the Green Party on the ballot shows what desperate shape he’s in.”

Santorum spokeswoman Virginia Davis admits that the campaign advised contributors to help Romanelli qualify for the ballot. “We encouraged those who inquired to help with the Green Party effort,” she says. “We welcome Carl Romanelli’s entry into the race because at least he’s expressed a real interest in being up front and honest about where he is on the issues.”

9 Responses to “Third Candidates Could Tilt Races”

  1. Robert Says:

    What about Kinky Friedman in Texas, Max Linn in Florida, and Libertarian Art Olivier in California, who are all running for Governor.

  2. Richard Winger Says:

    This USA Today article is of low quality, and I am embarassed to have my name in it. The reporter didn’t print any of the information I gave her about how unfair the Pennsylvania ballot access law is. She also didn’t print anything about how sometimes a minor party candidate helps the major party candidate he or she is closest to ideologically. For example, Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign as a Progressive helped Truman win, according to Samuel Lubell’s “The Future of American Politics”.

  3. Nigel Watt Says:

    Robert, in the Texas gubernatorial race, Chris Bell, the Democrat, is likely to place third, behind Perry and Strayhorn (another “independent”, although I consider her a “psychobitch”).

  4. green in brooklyn Says:

    It can be argued that Cantwell won not because of the Libertarian candidate but because of Ralph Nader on the Presidential Ballot. There was no Green in the race, and Nader brought alot of people to the polls who would not otherwise have voted (something like 1/3 to 1/2 of those who voted for Nader in 2000 would not have votged otherwise, accoridng to the exit polls, this was more than enuf to put Cantwell over the top). Nader similarly helped Granholm in MI and the seante race in Missouri as well.

  5. Joey Dauben Says:

    Guys, realize that reporters don’t publish the newspaper, editors do. Lots of editors.

  6. Eric Dondero Says:

    Richard, I think you’re being overly negative. I thought the article was great. You did a good job with the quotes. Most everything out of USA Today is heavily biased to the Left. I was surprised that this particular piece was even-handed.

    Libertarians do take votes from Republicans. Everyone knows that. Hell, the Founder of the LP was the Colorado State Chairman for the Young Republicans. All LP Presidential candidates since 1972 were Republicans, except Harry Browne. All elected libertarian state legislators and congressmen in the nation today are elected under the GOP banner like Ron Paul, Jeff Flake Leon Drolet, and Tom McClintock.

    We Libertarians are tied to the hip of that great big Pachyderm, or maybe I should say tied to the hump.

  7. Chris Moore Says:

    Was Badnarik a Republican before running for Presdient? You keep making this claim, I keep asking you to back it up, and you keep ducking it.

  8. Chris Moore Says:

    Also Eric, I’d be interested in you providing any sort of evidence that David Bergland was ever a Republican. I’m not sure about this one, but then again, I didn’t make the claim that he was.

  9. Mike Grimes Says:

    The who takes votes from who debate is flawed from the start. Anyone that voters 3rd party makes there opinion of the other two parties pretty clear. There not satisfied. We can have the discussion of who sucks less, but when people are activly voting for someone that doesn’t suck why should we?

    If the media wants to consider 3rd party votes the equivlant of not voting, then they should ask the question why couldn’t Gore convert the Nader voters, the same way they would ask that kind of question if a candidate didn’t turn out there base. The media clearly considers any Nader voter part of the Democrat base, yet they want to say he cost Gore the election.

    Every possible example of this reflects the same story, the candidate closest to the third party “spoiler” is clearly doing something wrong that there opponent is getting right.

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