The continuing revelations from renegade National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden have been a huge boon for the Libertarian Party, its leaders are saying, resulting in a doubling of the number of potential candidates in coming elections.
The latest scandal — that the United States has been spying on German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone for a decade — has only boosted the party's fortunes still further.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax, former New Mexico governor and 2012 Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson said the affair that is starting to be known as "Merkel-gate" should "by all objective measurements help the Libertarian Party because Libertarians have always taken the lead on the issue of privacy."
"Since Day One, back when the Libertarians nominated John Hospers as their first candidate for president in 1972, one of the party's cornerstone issues was opposition to government surveillance and protection of individual privacy," Johnson said.
Johnson dropped by Newsmax's Washington bureau while in town to address a weekend rally that drew thousands to protest the latest revelations of NSA eavesdropping. He also appeared at several events for Robert Sarvis, the Libertarian nominee for governor of Virginia, whom many polls show breaking into double digits in the Nov. 5 election.
Recalling his own performance — about 1 percent of the vote nationwide — in last year's presidential race, Johnson told Newsmax that if "Merkel-gate" does not generate greater support for Libertarian Party candidates, "it will mean a continuation of a phenomenon: that Libertarian nominees aren't recognized at a time when their positions are increasingly reflective of where the American people are politically."
Carla Howell, political director of the Libertarian Party, told Newsmax that the NSA revelations surrounding Merkel are "getting a lot of news coverage and are raising awareness of the issue of privacy. Certainly the big turnout we had for the rally on Saturday is strong evidence of that."
Of political fallout from the latest surveillance information leaked by Snowden — whom Libertarian leaders hail as a heroic whistleblower — Howell said, "We're getting a big bump from it. Since he went public, we've had double the inquiries in the last few months from people who want to run for office on the Libertarian ticket in 2014."
Howell predicted there would be more Libertarian candidates vying for office in 2014 "than in any past election year."
Like Johnson, Howell cited the importance Libertarians nationwide place on Sarvis and his performance in the race for governor next week. He is up against Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who has consistently led in the polls, and Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
In Howell's view, "We've already seen a victory there in the evidence of people turning to Robert Sarvis in large numbers and the attention he is drawing from the press. Perhaps it's the extreme negativism of the major party candidates, or it's Mr. Sarvis being a fine spokesperson, or a combination of both. But he's going to do very, very well."
Under Virginia election law, should Sarvis draw 10 percent of the vote, the Libertarian Party will have an automatic state ballot position in 2014, 2015, and 2016. That will give the party positions for which to nominate candidates for Congress, U.S. senator, or whatever other office is on the Virginia ballot in those years.
"And Sarvis achieving that 10 percent would be particularly impressive because Virginia has the second-highest threshold of all the states to achieve ballot position, Alabama being first with 23 percent," said Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News.
He said West Virginia and Maryland require a party to reach 1 percent, and Kentucky and North Carolina 2 percent for an automatic ballot position.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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