Third-Party Candidates Could Drive the Outcome of Key Senate Races in November

October 8, 2014
Joshua Baca, Senior Vice President, Client Relations

It’s been widely reported that the 2014 election cycle could uproot the status quo by handing Republicans a majority in the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2006. Notable political prognosticators, including The Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, and The Rothenberg Report predict the fundamentals of the election favor Republicans, and rightfully so.

Democrats are defending Senate seats in states where Governor Romney defeated President Obama in the 2012 election, including Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia. Overall, nine Democratic-held seats remain competitive according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, compared to three for Republicans. Republicans need to net six seats to gain a majority in November.

However, Independent and third-party candidates on the ballot this November have the potential to tilt the election one way or another by attracting votes from one of the major party candidates. According to most public polling, these candidates are likely to hurt Republicans and impact their chances on netting six Senate seats needed for a majority.
The most notable Independent candidate with the best chance of winning is Greg Orman in Kansas. Running as an independent voice and campaigning against both parties has allowed him to open up a 10-point lead against incumbent Senator Pat Roberts. A win by Orman would throw a sharp roadblock in at the Republican’s road to a majority.

In North Carolina, Sean Haugh, a pizza delivery man running as a Libertarian, is attracting seven percent of the vote and taking votes away from Republican Thom Tillis, who trails incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagen, who was labeled one of the most endangered Democratic Senator this election cycle.

Races in Georgia and Louisiana will head to a runoff unless one candidate gains 50 percent of the vote on Election Day. In Louisiana, Republican challenger Bill Cassidy holds a slight advantage over incumbent Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu. Unfortunately for Cassidy, Louisiana holds a jungle primary and Republican Robert Maness, running as a Tea Party candidate, is earning nine percent of the vote according to a recent CNN/ORC poll, which will likely force a December runoff. Amanda Swafford, a Libertarian candidate running in Georgia, could play spoiler in the race and force a runoff between Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn. A recent SurveyUSA poll showed her earning four percent of the vote. Notably, David Perdue’s support stood at 46 percent.

Overall, Republicans have a clear advantage and are favored to win races in Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota. Although even in South Dakota, where Republican frontrunner Mike Rounds has a 13-point lead over Democrat Rick Weiland, polls show that if Weiland withdrew from the race, Rounds would be virtually tied with Independent Larry Pressler. Republicans are also slightly favored in Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana. Democrats hold slight advantages in North Carolina and New Hampshire. Colorado and Iowa remain too close to give a slight advantage to either side. And suddenly, Senate races in Kansas and Georgia—states Republicans were favored to win easily early in the election cycle—are looking unfavorable to Republicans heading into the final stretch of the campaign.

Polling released last month by Gallup showed that a majority, 58 percent, favored a third party because both major political parties insufficiently represent their views. It’s not surprising that these candidates are earning the support they are getting, considering that 65 percent believe the country is on the wrong the track according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post survey. The assumption here is that the American people are disappointed with both parties and equally blame them for the toxic political environment we live in.

The last four election cycles have ushered in major change to all levels of government as voters have gone to the polls to vote to uproot the status quo of their elected government leaders.

In 2006, Democrats took control of Congress for the first time since 1994, riding a wave of displeasure over the direction of the War in Iraq. Democrats expanded their majorities in Congress and elected Barack Obama as President in 2008, riding a wave of voter discontent over one of the worst collapses of the American economy since the Great Depression. In 2010, Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives, a majority of the governorships across the country and elected an unprecedented amount of Republicans to state legislatures on a Tea Party wave of discontent with President Obama’s policies on health care and the economy. And in 2012, despite some of the worst economic conditions a president has faced since the Great Depression, President Obama was re-elected, defeating a continuation of the Tea Party wave of 2010.

What’s at stake in 2014? More change and division at all levels of government. But the real issue is if voters continue to express displeasure with their current slate of top candidates and punch their ballot for third- or Independent party candidates with little chance of winning, they will likely throw the make-up of next year’s Senate into uncertainty.

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