Cry Me A River: Third Party Spoilers?

With the results of this Tuesday’s election, some are crying foul.  Several “Tea Party” candidates lost and one or more individuals (specifically from within the Tea Party) are blaming <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Third party (United States)” rel=”wikipedia” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_party_%28United_States%29″>third party</a> candidates for their Tea Party backed candidate’s loss.  Certainly, their grievance has some sound reasoning, but much of it, in my opinion, is angry spin rooted in wounded pride.  In this posting, I will look at several key races, such as Florida, Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and most importantly, the Missouri Congressional race for its 3rd district.  I will attempt to separate legitimate complaints from irrelevant ones and hopefully give a balanced view of the races as a whole.

As has been previously mentioned by myself and all over the internet, there has been a groundswell of real grassroots fiscal conservatism over the last two years that has largely coalesced into the <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Tea Party movement” rel=”wikipedia” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_movement”>Tea Party movement</a> and organizations.  Within a year of starting up, these organizations had solidified and organized to a point that they could offer a strong, centralized voice with enough presence to attract and motivate politicians and candidates of all stripes and parties – one way or the other.  Quite a number of candidates across the nation this past cycle then were heavily backed, supported and promoted by Tea Parties.  This election was in part seen as a coming out event for the Tea Party and all eyes would be watching the outcomes to gauge the Tea Party’s real power now, for 2012 and beyond.

By and large, the “Tea Party”, though having a large contingent of self-professing moderate/independent types is mostly made up of conservatives who typically vote Republican.  Furthermore, most Tea Partiers – as well as most people nationally – tend to agree with the A/B political paradigm that only thru either the Democrats or Republicans can anything be accomplished or won.  Therefore, most Tea Party’s backed Republican candidates… and some of them lost (some to actual or perceived third party candidates).  The real question then is whether this says something about the Tea Parties, third parties, the candidates or the voting population of a given electorate in general.  The answer, I believe, is all of the above.

One of my underlying complaints about politics and Christians has been a proclivity towards pragmatism to the detriment of principles.  I am not saying that pragmatism cannot or doesn’t have a role, but I feel and suspect that most people, especially those who state they’re Christians, are putting this nation and politics before God, shelving principles in favor of what is admittedly a “game” (yes, it’s important, but there are priorities, and we’re to be ‘in the world, not of it’).  To that end, the discussion on principles has divided people, some doggedly voting only third parties, others only a primary party and still others such as myself, “cafeteria style”, voting for candidates, not parties.

A local radio pundit and blogger who’s big in the local and national Tea Party scene and now TV has implied (at least it’s what I infer from her statements) that perhaps third parties shouldn’t even be on general election ballots and that they spoil elections.  Furthermore, she made an argument that essentially people who support third parties and principles over pragmatism were being disingenuous vis-à-vis the principles of those who support primary party candidates.  That is to say, she asked if we (I) believed our principles were right, then were hers wrong?  What she has failed to see however in her rant on third parties is that she is effectively stating that her principles and belief in how politics should be done (the game) are correct, not ours (those who espouse principle over pragmatism and favor in part or fully, third parties).  Are we who do not hold to the A/B paradigm right or is she right?  Can we both be right?  Is this relativism?!    Perhaps the real answer is that there is no true absolute to politics except adherence to principles, and principles can vary person to person.  That said, if you’re a Christian, there are bedrock doctrines which are absolute.  Politics on the other hand has a lot open for discussion.  Politics is/should be “secular”.   Third Parties are only asking that the playing field be open and allow for honest discussion and play.  I hope I am relating this understandably and correctly.

<a class=”zem_slink” title=”Marco Rubio” rel=”wikipedia” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Rubio”>Marco Rubio</a>, <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Charlie Crist” rel=”homepage” href=”http://www.flgov.com/”>Charlie Crist</a>, Christine O’Donnell, <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Ed Martin (Missouri politician)” rel=”homepage” href=”http://www.edmartinforcongress.com/”>Ed Martin</a>, Nick Ivanovich, Steven Hedrick, <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Tom Tancredo” rel=”homepage” href=”http://www.tancredoforgovernor2010.org/”>Tom Tancredo</a>, <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Sharron Angle” rel=”homepage” href=”http://www.sharronangle.com”>Sharron Angle</a>, <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Joe Miller (political candidate)” rel=”wikipedia” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Miller_%28political_candidate%29″>Joe Miller</a>, <a class=”zem_slink” title=”Lisa Murkowski” rel=”wikipedia” href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Murkowski”>Lisa Murkowski</a>.  Republicans, third party candidates and Tea Party backed candidates this past election.  Some won, some lost and some are still in the air.  Who spoiled the game?

Marco Rubio, Christine O’Donnell, Ed Martin, Tom Tancredo, Sharron Angle and Joe Miller were all backed by Tea Parties.  But wait, Tom <a href=”http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2010/10/25/tancredo-gets-big-tea-party-endorsement/”>Tancredo</a> was also a third party candidate, the rest were running as Republicans.  Nick Ivanovich, Steven Hedrick, Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski ran as third party candidates.  Of the group, the two who truly might be considered spoilers are Charlie Crist and Lisa Murkowski.  Both were Republicans who lost in the primary and decided to run as an independent and a write-in respectively because frankly, they were sore losers.  Illegal?  No.  Immoral and unethical?  Perhaps, but mostly just really poor taste and a whole lot of arrogant pride.  I believe there is a sharp difference between Crist and Murkowski on one hand and Tancredo, Ivanovich and Hedrick on the other.

Marco Rubio won in spite of Mr. Crist.  Mr. Crist did not spoil Mr. Rubio’s election, though he certainly tried.  If anything, if we’re talking “spoiling”, Mr. Crist did more to Mr. Meeks (the Democrat) campaign because Mr. Crist’s true, liberal self came out in the election.  Had he won the primary, he (Crist) could well have sailed to victory; but, Floridians stuck with Mr. Rubio.

Christine O’Donnell won her primary against the normally accepted Republican, Mike Castle.  Delaware Republicans put principle before pragmatism.  She lost the race against Chris Coons (D) who was far more liberal than Mr. Castle.  Did Mrs. O’Donnell spoil the race for Mr. Castle who would probably have sailed to victory over Mr. Coons?  At least Mr. Castle had the dignity and respect not to become a third party candidate.  Mrs. Angle in Nevada had a similar story.  Were conservative, Republican Nevadans to blame for choosing Mrs. Angle  in the primary, thus losing against Harry Reid?

Lisa Murkowski and Joe Miller’s race is being contested by Mr. Miller’s campaign.  Did Mrs. Murkowski spoil Mr. Miller’s race?  Of the group discussed, I believe she and Mr. Crist were/are true spoilers, however, that said, the results of the Alaskan and Floridian election tell a story.  Mr. Crist lost.  Mrs. Murkowski will most probably win.  The real issue then is not whether Mrs. Murkowski should be in the race, but whether or not a majority of Alaskans truly want Joe Miller to represent them.  Just as in Delaware and Nevada, they must not if Mrs. Murkowski is getting more write-in votes than Mr. Miller received on the ballot.

Mr. Tancredo ran for governor of Colorado as a third party candidate and lost.  Some have seen him as a spoiler to Republican Dan Maes campaign, yet, Mr. Tancredo was a legitimate candidate who saw rising popularity as election time neared while Mr. Maes plummeted in the polls.  While Mr. Tancredo had been a Republican, he entered the gubernatorial race as a third party candidate.  Furthermore, though losing, he garnered a substantial percentage of the vote.  One might say that perhaps Mr. Maes was the real spoiler, not Mr. Tancredo, since he got votes similar to a typical third party candidate.  Maybe that says more about the candidate and the voters, just as with Alaska and every other race.

Maybe some liberals, Democrats and moderate independents were putting pragmatism before principle too… maybe they were putting principle first.  “How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?!  The world may never know”.  Crist, Coons and Murkowski may well have gotten a lot of votes from Democrats and Independents that just didn’t want to see Rubio, O’Donnell or Miller win, and in the Florida and Alaskan race, the Democrat may have been seen as a dead political fish anyway.

Lastly, let’s look at the Missouri Congressional race for the 3rd district.  Mr. Russ Carnahan won by a squeaker against Mr. Ed Martin.  As of this writing, Mr. Martin has yet to concede, though Mr. Carnahan has a 2% advantage.  Furthermore, while Mr. Martin is claiming potential election/vote irregularities (hint: fraud), <a href=”http://thedanashow.wordpress.com/”>Dana Loesch</a> is blaming the third party candidates.  Are the third party candidates, Mr. Ivanovich and Mr. Hedrick really to blame, or is this just a case of sour grapes?  The local Tea Party made MO3 effectively a “pet project”.  It got to a point that it seems they believed the election was in the bag for them, more so that they were “entitled” to it.  I say this because Mrs. Loesch on air noted her anger about the election results, immediately blaming third party votes.  Most politicians are understandably upset about a political loss, but they are conciliatory.  It is a “game” after all.  Let’s look a bit closer at MO3 and see what the real story is.

Here are the results of the elections for the last ten years between Republicans and Democrats in MO3.  Let me point out that MO3 has been held by a Democrat for around sixty years and as is noted below, Mr. Dick Gephardt hailed from there and held the seat for over twenty years thru the loss of Carter to Reagan, the 1994 Republican sweep and George Bush’s 2000 victory.  The district is largely rural, blue collar and “Democrat”.

2000 – Dem: 147,000 Rep: 101,000 – 57.8 to 39.7, Gephardt
2002 – Dem: 121,750 Rep: 80,250 – 59 to 39,
2004 – Dem: 147,000 Rep: 125,400 – 52.9 to 45.1, Carnahan
2006p – Dem: 48,700 Rep: 11,900
2006 – Dem: 145,200 Rep: 70,200 – 65.6 to 31.7
2008p – Dem: 38,000 Rep: 19,000
2008 – Dem: 202,500 Rep: 92,750 – 66.4 to 30.4
2010p – Dem: 46,100 Rep: 35,100
2010 – Dem: 99,000 Rep: 94,600 – 48.9 to 46.7, Carnahan over Martin

The Tea Party did not start until the spring of 2009.  While Republican voter turnout for the district has steadily increased from a low in 2006, it shows no marked increase from 2008 to 2010.  If the Tea Party and Republicans were working so diligently in the district over the last year and a half, where are the votes to show for it?  If, as the Tea Party believed, they were making such strong inroads with agreement and support in MO3, then there should have been a sharp uptick in votes for Mr. Martin as compared to 2008.  Instead, Ed got barely two thousand more votes than the prior Republican candidate had received.  Furthermore, as 2004 shows, the district clearly can bring out more Republican votes.

That said, it’s probable that the Tea Party did have some positive affects on MO3 in that Mr. Carnahan’s votes were cut in half from 2008.  Granted, most of those voters in 2008 came out because of Mr. Obama’s campaign, but the Democrats can typically count on close to 150k votes.  Mr. Carnahan lost 50k votes.  Where did they go?  Most of those voters were no doubt turned off by Mr. Carnahan’s performance as well as the national performance of the Congressional Democrats and the President.  However, that did not translate into votes over to Mr. Martin.   So, now we’ll turn to the third parties in MO3 and see how they’ve fared over the last six years (Rounded/Approx.).   I am not including two write in candidates over two elections who garnered a total ~60 votes.

2004: 5,590 – Constitution: 1,220 Libertarian: 4370
2006: 6030 – Libertarian: 4,210 Progressive: 1,820
2008: 9,830 – Constitution: 4,320 Libertarian: 5,510
2010: 8,900 – Constitution: 3,150 Libertarian: 5,750

I think the election results speak quite clearly.  The third party candidates did not “spoil” MO3 for Mr. Martin.  Mr. Martin lost by 4,400 votes.  Had neither third party been allowed to run, while the Constitution Party voters would probably have voted for Mr. Martin, the Libertarian voters could have split their votes between Mr. Martin and Mr.  Carnahan since there are conservative and liberal libertarians.  At that point the race would have been a tie.   It’s interesting to note as well that while the combined turnout for Republicans and Democrats in MO3 over the last ten years has gone up and down, for the last six years third party candidates have increased their combined turnout consistently – not counting the obvious ’08 Obama bump (we will have to wait until 2012 and 2016 to see if 2008’s massive turnout was a one time fluke due to Mr. Obama being the first primary party black candidate to run in the general presidential election).

You can point to voter turn out by counties, but districts often cross a number of counties and rural to urban areas.  If you cannot get a plurality of the vote across the district, you will lose an election, and that means a candidate must focus most of their time in the areas more adverse to their platform, party and ideologies.  Clearly Mr. Martin’s biggest struggle was in South St. Louis City, Carnahan getting 66.6 (I kid you not!) to Martin’s 29.5.  In St. Louis County, Mr. Carnahan beat Mr. Martin 48.5 to 48.2.  Since most of the population of MO3 is in these two areas, that Mr. Martin won other areas is effectively irrelevant.

I believe I have made the point that third party candidates have not spoiled any of the races this past Tuesday.  Furthermore, as the race in MO3 as well as across the nation point out, the Tea Party and the conservative swell still has plenty of power.  I believe we’ll see further advances by the Tea Party in 2012, and just possibly, MO3 may turn “red” yet.

Take <a href=”http://www.redstate.com/erick/2010/11/04/recriminations/”>this article</a> by Erick Erickson into consideration concerning internal party politics and its affects on elections as you mull my own posting.

Crossposted to <a href=”http://wadingacross.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/cry-me-a-river-third-party-spoilers/”>WadingAcross</a>