GOP Fears Libertarian Could Tip Florida House Race to Democrat

Monday, 10 Mar 2014 11:54 AM

By John Gizzi

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Republicans fear that the Libertarian candidate in Tuesday's U.S. House special election in Florida could siphon off enough votes to tip the balance in a district long held by the GOP.

Republicans are worried about Libertarian Lucas Overby in the too-close-to-call race.

The American Crossroads political action committee paid for robo-calls over the weekend throughout the Pinellas County-area district by Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a favorite of libertarian-leaning voters. In the calls, Paul strongly urges a vote for fellow Republican David Jolly.

The impact on national politics of the first special election for the House in 2014 is obvious. A victory by Alex Sink, Florida's 2010 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, over Jolly in Florida's 13th Congressional District, one of the most consistently Republican districts in the South, would be a major coup for the Democratic Party.

But a win by Jolly, former top aide to 43-year GOP Rep. Bill Young — whose death last year resulted in Tuesday's special election — would surely give Republican candidates nationwide a green light to make their fall campaigns referendums on Obamacare.

Forced to win the nomination in a competitive three-candidate primary and beginning the race as an underdog to the better-known Sink, Jolly focused much of his campaign on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

In addition, he has hit hard at Sink, the state's former chief financial officer, as a pro-Obamacare vote in Congress.

A just-completed Red Racing Horses poll conducted by PMI Inc. showed Jolly edging Sink by a margin of 46 percent to 44 percent, with 5 percent preferring "another candidate on the ballot." That 5 percent is an approximation of the strength of Overby, 27, a commercial diver and first-time candidate.

Whether Overby will harm the Republican more than the Democrat is an argument that leaders in both major parties and the Libertarian Party have long had.

"Libertarians draw equally from both major parties — from Republicans because of their strong opposition to regulation and support for small government, from Democrats because of support for marijuana decriminalization, marriage equality, and the right to choose," former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the 2012 Libertarian nominee for president, told Newsmax.

But Democratic analysts have begun to agree that the Libertarian Party's strong identification with smaller government makes it more appealing to Republicans than Democrats.

Last fall, in response to a question from Newsmax, veteran Democratic pollster Celinda Lake backed what Republicans have long said: that Libertarians draw more of their voters from Republicans than from Democrats and sometimes cost the GOP elections.

The trend of Republicans breaking away from their party's candidate to support Libertarians "has been growing in the West, and it was certainly tried and true in my home state of Montana," Lake said, noting that in the U.S. Senate race in 2012, the Libertarian drew a greater share of the vote than Democrat Jon Tester's margin of victory over Republican Denny Rehberg.

Tester edged Rehberg by 18,764 votes. But Libertarian Dan Cox drew 31,287 votes, or 6.5 percent — a high for a Libertarian statewide candidate anywhere last year and more than enough to make the difference.

Other experts say the greater the Republican turnout, the less likely it is that GOP voters will turn to a Libertarian.

"The closer the race is, the more likely Overby could decide the race," veteran election analyst Jay O'Callaghan told Newsmax. "But it now appears the Republicans are turning out more early voters, and that diminishes the chances of Overby being a spoiler."

O'Callaghan reminded Newsmax that last year, when many pollsters predicted a showing in double digits for Libertarian Robert Sarvis in the race for Virginia governor, the third-party hopeful ended up with 6.5 percent.

But that 6.5 percent was still nearly six times the margin of victory Democrat Terry McAuliffe scored over Republican Ken Cuccinelli, leading many state and national Republicans to brand Sarvis a "spoiler."

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