Sean Haugh, the pizza deliveryman Libertarian party candidate in North Carolina who is polling as high as 7 percent in a critical Senate race, dismisses charges that he will be a “spoiler” candidate, taking enough votes from GOP challenger Thom Tillis to keep incumbent Democratic Rep. Kay Hagan in office.
“I don’t really give much credence to the spoiler theory, the way I look at it is that I am giving an alternative to people all across the political spectrum who are tired of corporate special interests controlling our government,” Haugh said in an interview with Breitbart News.
“If I weren’t in the race I just think a lot of people would skip it and not vote at all,” he said, adding that he expects to win.
Polls have Hagan with a slight lead over Tillis and Haugh capturing as much as 7 percent of likely voters, a recent NBC News/Marist poll found.
According to Kyle Kondik the Managing Editor for Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics third party candidates often do better in polls than they do on Election Day.
“That said, third-party candidates can be an alternative in races that become nasty and feature two candidates who are not all that popular,” Kondik explained. “For instance, Libertarian Robert Sarvis got about 6.5% in the 2013 Virginia governors race, which I think was a function of having a really nasty campaign between Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli. The same thing could happen in NC, where Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis are engaged in a really tough race, and Tillis in particular seems to have weak favorability for a challenger.”
“Haugh’s actual performance as a candidate doesn’t really matter here – voters might just turn to him because they are turned off by the two big party candidates,” Kondik added, noting that although Hagan appears to have a marginal lead the race is “far from over.”
Whether Haugh is pulling votes from Tillis, Hagan or simply generating his own interest is a curiosity that experts see as a complicating factor in an already close race.
“[E]ven if Haugh only gets a very small portion of the vote, say 1-2%, that is potentially enough to change the outcome of the race,” Steven Greene, a professor of political science at North Carolina State, emailed Breitbart News. “I think it would be wrong to assume that all of his voters would have voted for Tillis were Haugh not in the race, but it is quite likely that he will, to some degree, cause harm to Tillis’ vote totals.”
“Whether that will be enough to change the outcome is impossible to say, but it is well within the realm of possibility,” he added.
While conventional wisdom often finds the libertarian pulling votes from the Republican in any given race, Haugh is not so much a conservative alternative than an entirely different beast to either candidate.
“Sean Haugh, given his range of views and if people actually look and see where he stands on the issues, has in some respects much more of a left libertarian outlook than a right looking outlook.” Mitch Kokai a political analyst at the John Locke Foundation explained to Breitbart News.
Kokai pointed out that while libertarian candidates usually pull votes from Republicans, Haugh is likely — if he does pull votes away — to take them from both candidates.
“It’s not likely that is it going to be something like a 90-10 split — that 90 percent of the votes he would take away would be from the Republican, and 10 percent from the Democrat. If in this case he’s going to take away more votes from the Republican than the Democrat it would be more like 60 – 40 or something like that,” Kokai said, adding that the breakdown will really depend on whether voters look into Haugh’s beliefs instead of relying on the libertarian label.
Given that, Kokai said right now whether Haugh does have a significant impact will boil down to a “wait and see” scenario.
An August poll from Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling found Haugh supporters would pick Tillis over Hagan by a 61-19 margin.
Michael Cobb, another NC State University political science professor, predicted that Haugh in the end gets the max a libertarian candidate has won in a U.S. Senate race in about the past decade, three percent.
While Cobb explained that he previously thought Haugh was hurting Tillis in the polls, recently he has seen that Haugh’s supporters are “evenly split in their preference for Hagan or Tillis, should they defect.”
“Recent polls cast doubt that Haugh is taking mainly from Tillis, I’m not sure I totally believe it, but I’ve seen enough data to suggest its a real possibility. In which case, its harder for him to be a spoiler,” Cobb added in an email. “I think we need a few more polls to be more certain that its an even split. The sample sizes for Haugh supporters in each poll are very small and subject to high margins of sampling error. Hard to trust the polls when history suggests otherwise, but I’m getting closer to believing…”
Either way Haugh, who says he has raised $8,000 and has used social media as his primary vehicle to campaign, remains confident, telling Breitbart he has not made any plans other than to win the Senate seat and put his agenda — focused on ending war, cutting spending, and improving constituent services — in place. He will be participating in one debate with Tillis and Hagan on Thursday in Wilmington.
While there are concerns about how Haugh may impact the GOP candidate, there have been efforts to reach more libertarian voters. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who appeals to libertarian sensibilities, was in North Carolina recently campaigning for Tillis, for example, and according to the New York Times, Paul recently filmed campaign commercials for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to air in some of the tight races.