Third parties keep hope alive despite lack of cash

Wednesday, October 20, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 2:13 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik’s campaign had raised $555,000 nationwide as of Oct. 1, less than half the $1.3 million raised by John Kerry and less than one-seventh the $3.6 million raised by President Bush — in Missouri alone.

Steve Sternberg, a Libertarian and MU student, said lack of money ruins all chances for a major third-party victory.

“Grass-roots parties pop up and fade, but they don’t actually do a good job winning because of the financial gap that exists,” Sternberg said. “The DNC has a heck of a lot more money than the Libertarians.”

But Bob Sullentrup, president of the Missouri Libertarian Party, said record numbers of Libertarians elected to office keep him optimistic there eventually will be an opportunity for third parties to be competitive in U.S. politics.

More than two dozen U.S. political parties are registered with the Federal Elections Commission. In Missouri, four Libertarians hold public office; 581 Libertarians hold office nationwide.

The Green Party boasts 212 officeholders in 27 states and Washington, D.C. Six Green Party candidates will be up for election in Missouri this November.

Sullentrup said the credibility of third parties can be compromised when incompetent candidates are nominated to run for office and don’t wage viable campaigns.

“Then the press won’t have third-party candidates in the debates because they show up ill-prepared,” he said.

Carl Wingo of the Green Party said the media tends to make third-party candidates seem less competent by not giving them enough coverage.

“The candidates appear to be less organized because they don’t get coverage,” he said. “Unless you participate in those campaigns, it’s hard to know what they’re really doing.”

Although third-party candidate supporters are often accused of wasting their votes, Wingo said many people waste their votes in a two-party system.

“If you vote in a winner-take-all electoral system like ours, a lot of people’s votes go to waste,” Wingo said. “If someone wins with 51 percent, 49 percent throw their vote away. It’s more a question of having an electoral system that is more democratic than ours, like one based on proportional representation.”

Despite his Libertarian affiliation, Sternberg said he would think twice before voting for Badnarik on Nov. 2.

“It will depend on the polls from the state of Missouri,” Sternberg said. “If it becomes clear that one candidate is going to win, I’m going to vote for the Libertarian candidate, but getting Bush out of office is greater than the need for social change at this moment.”

Sternberg said that although he might not vote for Libertarian candidates, he thinks third parties provide an effective outlet for alternative political views.

“The two main parties won’t effectively initiate real social change, but they see the need for change like I do,” he said. “They’re not entrenched in the system.”

Rocket Kirchner, a musician volunteering for the Nader-Camejo write-in campaign in Missouri, plans to remain loyal to his candidate even though victory is unlikely.

Kirchner said he is working overtime and solo to campaign for Nader, appearing on radio talk shows and writing letters to local newspapers, to show there is an alternative to the two major candidates.

“It’s not just about Ralph Nader,” he said. “It’s about investing seeds of dissent in the future of other possibilities besides the two-party system.”

Sullentrup admits that third-party presidential victory is unlikely, but he’ll vote for Badnarik anyway.

“At least we’ll (Libertarians) be able to say, ‘Look folks, I told you so,’ ” he said. “We hope for more, but that’s the worst we can do. The government is overextended internationally and domestically. We’re going to be there to pick up the pieces.”

Missourian reporter Brendan Shea contributed to this report.

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