Columbus: I could build a beach if I had a grain of sand for every call I received over the years from third-party candidates for governor seeking publicity.
I’ve refrained from telling them: “Call back when you’ve raised $1 million.”
For sure, that’s harsh, because the ideas of third parties deserve to be heard. Like it or not, though, money is a key indicator of political support, and if a candidate can’t raise enough to be remotely competitive — which is true of almost all third-party candidates — then there is little use discussing what he or she would do as governor.
That’s why it is tempting to blow off Charlie Earl, even though the Libertarian Party candidate assured me in an interview that he’ll raise at least $1.5 million, and more likely $3.5 million, an amount he said would “slam dunk” him into the governor’s office.
His bravado ignores that Republican Gov. John Kasich and his likely Democratic opponent, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, each probably will run $15 million-plus campaigns next year.
Still, it is unwise to ignore Earl, not as a candidate who actually could become governor (he can’t). He merits notice because he could be a spoiler, particularly by cutting into Kasich’s vote.
A portion of the Republican Party base — and nobody is certain how big it is — has rebelled against Kasich as a big-government traitor, for advocating the expansion of Medicaid to 275,000 more poor Ohioans. Tea party groups are vowing to stay home or find another candidate rather than support Kasich for re-election.
“We carried water for him in 2010, but we’re not going to do that in 2014,” said Tom Zawistowski, Ohio’s most-recognized tea party leader.
Admitting that the tea party has no one to challenge Kasich in next May’s GOP primary, Zawistowski said that he and like-minded folks might get behind Earl, who is counting on it.
“That’s going to be our main emphasis going forward — trying to bring a coalition of Libertarians and tea party people who love freedom and who are not enamored with what’s going on in Washington and Columbus,” said Earl, 67, who taught mass communication at Bowling Green State University and lives on a farm north of there.
But is a Libertarian really the tea party’s cup of tea? Earl said he is a born-again Christian who strongly opposes abortion, “but if the people of Ohio believe otherwise, then I’ll go along with it.” He also sanctioned gay marriage, saying it is not “the government’s business to determine who you love.”
These positions won’t sit well with the GOP’s Christian right, which cross-pollinates with the tea party, and even Zawistowski says he’s not sure if it’s possible to get tea partiers to coalesce behind a Libertarian.
“We’re just such a diverse entity. It is the penultimate herding of cats.”
Zawistowski and Earl are unconcerned that Earl might siphon enough of the 2014 votes away from Kasich to make FitzGerald governor. “Whoopie!” Earl said.
But Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University, said it is not a given that Earl would cut into only Kasich’s vote.
Libertarians, he said, “tend to cut across both Democrat and Republican support,” noting that Earl’s tolerance on social issues such as gay marriage could woo some Democrats, while his commitment to small government could entice Republicans.
“When Libertarians make appeals that lure members of both parties, their appeals also, by definition, repulse members of both parties,” Smith said. “This makes it unlikely that even a strong Libertarian campaign that finishes above 5 percent would damage only one major-party candidate.”
Earl, who has a likable, down-home manner, is eager “to stir the pot,” adding, “We’re going to let it rip and let the chips fall where they may.”
Hallett is senior editor at the Columbus Dispatch. He can be emailed at email@example.com.