Republican candidate Roy Brown, upon hearing the news last week that Stan Jones is running for governor, welcomed the quirky Bozeman Libertarian to the race. If genuine, Brown’s response was certainly gracious. Former U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., must not yet have warned him.
Third-party candidates are often chastised for playing spoiler and Burns could make the argument that in 2006 Jones crashed his re-election party like Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn at a wedding. That year, the incumbent senator lost to Democrat Jon Tester by 3,562 votes. Jones siphoned 10,377 votes from the final tally, moonlighting as Montana’s version of Ralph Nader.
Although Nader and Jones fall on opposite sides of the political pendulum, both have other similarities beyond their common tendency to prod the gut of the political establishment. Nader, like Jones, recently announced another run for office, his for the nation’s highest. Nader represented the Green Party, while Jones’s skin has a blue tinge as the result of taking colloidal silver in 1999 out of fears that Y2K might lead to antibiotic shortages. And both men are considered fringe candidates, at least by the mainstream.
Yet the chances of either Nader affecting the result of the presidential contest or Jones tipping the balance in Montana’s governor race, so far, appear slim. Many voters have lost their appetite for alternative candidates, but that hasn’t silenced their critics, especially in Nader’s case. Upon his announcement, Democrats went on the offensive almost immediately. And pundits called him a “sick joke,” “irrelevant” and an “ego-driven would-be spoiler.”
It was Nader, his haters say, who cost former Democratic Vice President Al Gore the presidency in 2000. Many of those same people say Nader won’t have any effect on this year’s presidential election. Then why the uproar? Because while he’s an unlikely threat, the lifelong consumer advocate still scares Democrats.
In Jones’s case, he simply makes Brown’s uphill battle against Gov. Brian Schweitzer that much more daunting. Schweitzer remains a relatively popular governor across the state and – along with a drastic mood change in the electorate – it would take a unified Republican Party to pose a serious challenge to his re-election bid. Instead, it appears the right is splintering into two camps: the traditional GOP and an ultra-conservative wing.
Jones said he was encouraged by Ron Paul’s showing in the Montana Republican caucus vote last month. The Texas congressman with a Libertarian bent placed second with 25 percent. Thus, Jones expects to do much better than his four previous candidacies for higher office where he won about 2 percent of the vote.
Bozeman Republican Roger Koopman’s maneuver to purge his own party of moderates by encouraging Paul supporters to run against certain GOP incumbents certainly isn’t bolstering party unity, either. Before the general election, I expect more Libertarian candidates to file for office, buoyed by enthusiasm among Paul supporters, many of whom felt disenfranchised by the recent caucus.
If that does happen, it remains to be seen if the GOP establishment begins to sound more like the Democrats. Maybe the hunger for third-party candidates like Nader and Jones is stronger than the GOP or Dems realize. And, once again, those party crashers will cause the old guard to turn green, or blue, in the face.