Libertarians could affect White House and Senate elections in Georgia

Just don’t call them spoilers
Libertarian candidates (from left), Brian Slowinski who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kelly Loeffler, presidential candidate Jo Jorgenson and Shane Hazel, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by David Perdue.

Libertarian candidates (from left), Brian Slowinski who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by Kelly Loeffler, presidential candidate Jo Jorgenson and Shane Hazel, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat held by David Perdue.

If Ron Paul had known about hashtags and podcasts, his campaigns for president might have looked a lot like Shane Hazel’s run for the U.S. Senate against David Perdue.

Hazel, a Marine special operations veteran, helms a podcast called “Radical,” where he addresses his listeners as “all my rebels.” His website and social media feeds are full of Libertarian orthodoxy punctuated for the intensity of the modern political moment — #EndtheFed, #EndtheWars, #peacethruliberty and #taxationistheft.

Because of stringent Georgia ballot access requirements, Hazel is one of just seven Libertarian candidates who Georgia voters will see on their ballots this election cycle. Others include Brian Slowinski, who is running in the special election to defeat U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and Jo Jorgensen, the Libertarian nominee for president.

The Libertarians' small numbers belie the outsized influence they could have in Georgia this year.

The most recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll shows both Senate contests with razor-thin margins at the top and giving Hazel about 4% of the votes in his race and Slowinski roughly 3% in his contest — enough to potentially keep the top Senate vote-getters under 50% in each race and forcing runoffs.

The AJC poll also shows 3% of voters backing Jorgenson, which could swing the state’s tight presidential race.

That dynamic has Democrats and Republicans nervous and calling Libertarians potential “spoilers” like Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election that eventually went to George W. Bush. (Nader was a Green Party candidate.)

It’s also a label that Ryan Graham, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, flatly rejects.

“In Georgia, you have to win 50% plus one to win the election. And if you aren’t popular enough to do that, that’s not our fault — that’s your fault,” Graham said. “If you didn’t earn enough votes, maybe you should change your platform and earn those votes.”

Hazel’s platform of low taxes and an extremely limited federal government led him to run as a Republican in the 2018 primary against U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in the 7th Congressional District, where Hazel grew up.

But after losing to Woodall in the race, a run that Hazel said infuriated local GOP leaders, he was approached by Graham, who posed a question to him: “You know you’re a Libertarian, right?”

Ryan also suggested a Senate race against Perdue, and Hazel agreed. “If I can help push peace, liberty, free markets and people’s rights, I guess there’s a good thing,” Hazel said in an interview.

As a senator, Hazel said he would work to drastically reduce the size of the federal government and its role in American lives. He would end “unconstitutional, never-ending wars” and abolish the Federal Reserve Bank and the U.S. Department of Education.

On the specific crises facing Americans in 2020, Hazel would also limit the role of the federal government, which he says has made crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic worse, not better.

“If we would have just left the states and the people to their own devices, I think we would have seen a much better response,” Hazel said, adding that the government, in this case the state government, should never have had the authority to close businesses, and that the federal government should not play a role in finding or distributing a potential vaccine for the virus.

On the question of police-involved shootings, Hazel said law enforcement agencies should police only crimes against third parties such as murder, rape, kidnapping and theft.

“We would be a much safer society, they would be much safer in their professions,” he said.

Special election challenger

Like Hazel, Slowinski became a Libertarian after first running as a Republican and feeling excommunicated by party insiders as a result.

“I didn’t leave the party," he said. "The party left me.”

Slowinski also wants to abolish the Federal Reserve and the Department of Education, but in an interview he added a long list of agencies, programs and treaties for the chopping block, with a focus on reining in the spiraling federal debt and deficits.

“I’d defund the United Nations, all the nongovernment organizations, and get the hell out of NATO,” he said. “We’re broke, people!”

Slowinski would also close 50% of overseas American military bases, block grant Medicare and Medicaid to states, add a means test for Social Security recipients, and eliminate the Internal Revenue Service and the departments of Agriculture, Energy, Labor and Transportation.

“A lot of that is not needed,” he said. “We need to get back to some real, real reasonable tax and spending.”

A long-time GOP activist before this run, Slowinski knows enough about politics to know how to count votes, but he rejects both the “spoiler tag” and the idea that a third-party candidate can’t win.

“Did they say the same thing to Abraham Lincoln?" Slowinski said. "He was a third-party candidate when he won the presidency in 1860.”

Not always a factor

It’s true that running as a Libertarian does not always make an appreciable difference in the outcome of elections, especially in races with large margins.

In Perdue’s 2014 run for the Senate, Libertarian Amanda Swofford drew about 2% of the vote, but Perdue still won with 53% over Michelle Nunn, who finished with 45%. And countless races in Georgia have ended in runoffs with only Republican and Democratic candidates on the ballot.

But even for a party full of independents and iconoclasts, it’s hard to imagine why someone who wants to be involved in politics would choose a path so full of barriers to running and be subject to blame for outcomes they never sought.

Graham, the Libertarian leader in the state, says running as a Democrat or a Republican just wouldn’t be an honest thing for a Libertarian to do.

“I’m not going to support Democrats or Republicans publicly because I disagree with them on over half of all things,” he said. “Maybe we’re all just bad politicians and that’s why we’re Libertarians.”