Libertarian on Kentucky Senate Ballot Could Hurt Mitch McConnell
Libertarian Party candidate David Patterson, a 42-year-old police officer, announced Monday that he has obtained more than the 5,000 signatures required to be placed on the ballot in this November's general election for the U.S. Senate in Kentucky. Incumbent Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes are the two major party candidates currently on the ballot.
Patterson's candidacy is a wild card in Minority Leader McConnell's effort to take over the reins as Majority Leader of the Senate in January 2015, should Republicans regain the majority there.
A recent Bluegrass Poll of the Kentucky U.S. Senate race found McConnell ahead of Democrat Grimes in a two-way race with a 47%-to-45% lead, albeit within the poll's margin of error, making them statistically tied.
The same poll shows McConnell maintains a two-point margin (41% to 39%) over Grimes in a three-way race, with Patterson receiving the support of 7% of the voters. Patterson's entry increases the number of undecideds from 8% to 13%, adding uncertainty into the race for McConnell.
The Bluegrass Poll of 604 likely voters was conducted between July 18 and July 23.
In a tight general election where the margin of victory is expected to be less than 5% – or 75,000 votes out of an anticipated 1.5 million votes to be cast – embittered supporters of Matt Bevin, the Tea Party-endorsed challenger who was "crushed" in the May 2014 Republican primary by McConnell 60% to 36%, could determine the outcome. It's conceivable that Grimes could ride pro-Bevin defectors to Patterson to victory.
The likelihood of such a dramatic switch by Republican primary voters, however, is uncertain.
A week ago, before the Libertarian Patterson qualified for the ballot, United Kentucky Tea Party [UKTP] spokesperson Scott Hofstra told the Daily Beast the Mississippi GOP Senate primary, where incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran narrowly won by actively targeting Democratic voters, was a turning point for the group.
"If there were some people [in the Tea Party] on the fence [about McConnell] after what happened in Kentucky, the Mississippi incident really put them over the edge." The UKTP is an informal coalition of more than a dozen of the largest local Tea Party groups in Kentucky. The group supported Bevin in his primary challenge of McConnell.
But for the Libertarian candidate to receive 75,000 to 125,000 votes from Tea Party supporters will require more than a mere endorsement from the UKTP. Such a result will require a boots-on-the-ground door-knocking effort, and despite the lingering hostility among Kentucky Tea Party members towards McConnell, that level of organization has not yet been reached.
John Kemper, a leader in the UKTP who also worked on the Bevin campaign, told Breitbart News on Monday that the UKTP "has not taken an official position on the US Senate race in Kentucky." Kemper added that "David Patterson has the required 5,000 signatures to appear on the ballot in November," but how many Tea Party votes his candidacy will attract is uncertain.
"My friends in the Libertarian party, including the state party chair, are urging David to reach out [to Tea Party members in Kentucky]," Kemper said. "UKTP members have varying positions in this race. I believe it would be difficult to arrive at an official position other than they really do not want McConnell. That feeling is growing stronger after Mississippi and other tactics used by the establishment."
As for Bevin, who was highly critical of McConnell's attacks on him in the immediate aftermath of his primary loss, his interest in a potential 2015 run for Governor on the Republican ticket suggests that he is at present unlikely to endorse McConnell's Libertarian challenger.
According to Louisville public radio station WFPL, "Patterson filed over 9,100 raw signatures with the Kentucky secretary of state's office Monday in his bid to make the ballot for the U.S. Senate election... Independent and third party candidates must collect a minimum of 5,000 signatures before the Aug. 12 deadline. Libertarian Party Chair Ken Moellman said they have verified approximately 5,700 signatures using a voter registration database."
WFPL also reported, "The secretary of state's office will review Patterson's signatures and will announce if he met the criteria [to be placed on the ballot] within 24 hours."
This sets up an interesting scenario.
The Secretary of State – McConnell's Democratic opponent Grimes – stands to benefit politically if her subordinates verify Patterson's signatures and place his name on the ballot. While no one has yet suggested that this potential conflict of interest may influence the integrity of the signature verification process, it is likely that Senator McConnell's political team and attorneys are watching this process very closely.