3rd Party Candidates in 2010

Republicans either lost or barely won a whole lot of races because their vote was split with minor party candidates.

Everyone reading this knows that Republican Marco Rubio won despite facing a “third party” challenge from erstwhile Republican Charlie Crist and that erstwhile Republican Lisa Murkowski appears to have been re-elected in a write-in bid over Republican Dan Miller, who beat her in the Republican primary.  But Jim Geraghty points out that there were a whole lot of races this cycle where Republicans either lost or barely won because their vote was split with minor party candidates:

Last night, a withdrawn third party bid ended up Republicans at least one key victory. I’m starting to think the New York 23rd District is cursed. Doug Hoffman, Conservative Party candidate, inspiring figure of 2009-s special election, made a remarkably mature decision to drop his Conservative bid this year and back the Republican, Matt Doheny. Last night, 6 percent of the district voted for Hoffman, even though he had withdrawn. Democrat Bill Owens is ahead by 2.4 percent.

In Oregon, Republican Chris Dudley is hanging on in the governor’s race; his 1.1 percent lead is less than the share of the vote that went to the Constitution Party candidate (1.4 percent) and the Libertarian Party candidate (1.3 percent).

Harry Reid will win reelection with 50.2 percent of the vote, but Sharron Angle only won 44.6 percent.

Tim Cahill cost Charlie Baker his shot at the Massachusetts governorship.

In Indiana, one of the cycle’s promising Republicans, Jackie Walorski, has fallen short by 1.4 percent while the Libertarian candidate took 5 percent.

Massachusetts Republicans are bummed this morning. In the 10th District, Democrat Bill Keating is going to win with a mere 46.9 percent of the vote.

In Rhode Island’s 1st District, a lot of Democrats worried about their man David Ciciline; he won 50.6 percent of the vote but is six points ahead of John Loughlin.

In Colorado’s governor’s race, we saw a strange reversal: the surprising 11 percent who backed Republican Dan Maes probably cost conservative independent Tom Tancredo a victory, or at least a chance to take Democrat John Hickenlooper down to the wire.

Now, I don’t know how many races there were where Democrats lost narrowly because of Greens or other left-leaning candidates on the ballot.  [Indeed, Doug Mataconis points out in comments below, that appears to have been the margin of victory in the Illinois Senate race.] And we can’t automatically assume all Libertarians would otherwise have voted Republican.

Regardless, it’s really a stupid system to let spoiler candidates decide close races — usually in a way decidedly against the preference of the majority of voters.

In the case of Murkowski, I favor Sore Loser laws which prohibit candidates who have lost in a party primary from getting a second bite at the apple.   And that in spite of my preference for Murkowski over Miller.

More generally, though, I prefer a wider field and allowing voters to choose their ideal candidate rather than their least favorite.  But we need a system that requires majority winners, whether through a second ballot (i.e., a runoff election) or through some sort of instant-runoff system where voters rank order their candidates.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Michael says:

    Also in Florida, Republican Rick Scott won the governorship with only 48% of the votes. His opponent, Democrat Alex Sink, got 47%. The rest went to various independents, the 3rd place finisher, Peter Allen, has about twice as many votes as there are separating Scott from Sink.

  2. Check out the results in Illinois:

    Mark Kirk — 1,751,881 votes (48,3%)
    Alexi Gianoulias — 1,670,969 votes (46.1%)
    LeAlan Jones — 115,720 votes (3.2%), this is the Green Party candidate
    Mike Labno — 85,649 votes (2.4%) this is the Libertarian Party candidate.

    Jones’s vote total is itself larger than the margin between Kirk and Gianoulias, as is Labno’s

  3. Tano says:

    ‘In the case of Murkowski, I favor Sore Loser laws which prohibit candidates who have lost in a party primary from getting a second bite at the apple.”

    I think this is a terrible idea in general, but even more so in the Alaska case. Not only would you pass a law denying a candidate the right to put their name on the ballot as an independent (itself a violation of democratic principles) – but in the Alaska scenario, presumably you would pass a law preventing citizens from writing in the name of whomever they support. Bad enough to restrict the freedom of a candidate – you want to curtail the freedom of the voter.

    Why? Even if you don’t particularly care about the democratic right of the people to elect whomever they want, this solution is not going to solve most of the problematic situations. A Murkowski or Lieberman situation is rare. Usually the problem comes about from the other examples you discuss – simply the existence of third parties in otherwise close races.

    Instant runoff seems the obvious best way to deal with this.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I agree with Doug on the decisive role of the third parties on the Illinois Senate race.

    It may have been more so in the governor’s race where an additional independent candidate (the strangeness that is Scott Cohen) garnered additional votes.

  5. Ben says:

    Rhode Island governor’s race:

    Lincoln D. CHAFEE IND 123398 36.1%
    John F. ROBITAILLE REP 114761 33.6%
    Frank T. CAPRIO DEM 78776 23%
    Kenneth J. BLOCK MOD 22116 6.5%
    Joseph M. LUSI IND 1087 0.3%
    Todd GIROUX IND 880 0.3%
    Ronald ALGIERI IND 792 0.2%

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Tano: I think people should either run as independents or for their party’s nomination. If they do the latter and lose, though, they shouldn’t be allowed to run. They’ve declared themselves as part of a party and are then sabotaging that party after having lost. I

    @Ben Independents, particularly those who previously held high office as a member of one of the parties, have won quite a few contests over the years. I presume Chafee would have won with IRV, since he’s a former Republican and the GOP candidate placed second. But maybe not. Regardless, I think it should take a majority to get elected.

  7. Jack says:

    James, in your response to Tano, you state “They’ve declared themselves as part of a party and are then sabotaging that party after having lost.” If I can restate it, you are putting the interests of the party above the interest of providing voters who are not a member of that party (for states that do not allow non-party members to vote in primaries) a choice to vote for a candidate. So as Tano said, your position curtails the freedom of the voter. Which is more important, the welfare of the party or the freedom of the voter?

    In other words, in the interest of promoting the voters the widest range of choices, no one should be restricted from a write-in campaign. If they can get enough to “spoil” a major party candidate, does that not say something about the party and the candidate they chose to run?

    I know we have to work with the two party system we have, but do we really want to put more restrictions in place that give the voters even less choice than they have now along with further entrenching the two parties we have?