By Tu-Uyen Tran
Forum News Service
FARGO – Robert “Jack” Seaman, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. House in North Dakota, has trailed in every poll this election season, but he remains defiantly optimistic.
“I think I could win, I really do,” he said Tuesday, a week before Election Day.
In most of the polls, Seaman doesn’t crack 5 percent while the major party candidates, Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer and Democrat state Sen. George Sinner, range in the high 20s to high 40s, with Cramer well ahead.
But polls reflect only people who say they’re likely to vote, which Seaman said leaves out those so disgusted with the two-party system they’d just as soon stay home Election Day.
“I’m trying to engage the disenfranchised voters, the young voters that have never voted before and the people that are fed up with their parties. That’s my demographic,” he said.
The Libertarian Party platform includes a little bit of the GOP and Democratic platforms and goes a lot further than either party in the direction of individual liberty.
Seaman said it’s inherently appealing to his demographic, if only more knew about it and more saw it as a viable choice.
That might be why Libertarian candidates mostly run in high-profile statewide or national races that they seem to have no real chance of winning instead of smaller local races where their odds might be better.
“It’s my personal opinion – I’m not speaking for any party official – but I think people run for the bigger offices because they have the most media exposure,” Seaman said. “Win, lose or draw, I’ve been in this race for over a year now, and I think I’ve put the term Libertarian on people’s radar. And that’s the most important thing to grow the party.”
Robert S. Wood, a political scientist at the University of North Dakota, said he agrees that dissatisfaction with the major parties is extremely high, and he wouldn’t be surprised if more voters cast “symbolic votes” for a third party.
But, as fast as the Libertarian Party has grown nationwide, it’s still vulnerable to having its issues co-opted by the major parties, Wood said.
That’s what happened to independent presidential candidate Ross Perot after the 1992 election. Perot ran on a deficit-reduction platform but, after Bill Clinton won the presidency, he turned his attention to the issue, effectively neutralizing Perot, Wood said.
In a similar way, libertarians can choose from both the Libertarian Party and the libertarian wing of the GOP exemplified by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.
Seaman said he sees some advantages to this.
“Trying to evolve a third political party in this country is not something that’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “I would embrace ‘small-L’ libertarians as a step forward than having no other option.”
Asked if libertarians, who are closer to the GOP, might not be throwing their votes away if they voted for the Libertarian Party in a tight race and allow the Democrat to win, he said if everyone thought that way the two-party system would never end.
Seaman said he grew up in Aberdeen, S.D., and always considered himself more or less a Republican because his parents are Republicans, too. But he was more a fiscal conservative than a social conservative, he said, which made him a “small-L” libertarian as well.
After attending North Dakota State University, Seaman stayed in Fargo and worked a variety of jobs until he came to own the MinDak Gold Exchange downtown. In the meantime, his libertarian beliefs deepened, and he became a devotee of Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.
Seaman said it was the elder Paul who inspired him to sever his GOP ties after Paul sought and failed to win the party nomination for president in 2012. Paul’s supporters, including Seaman, alleged unfair treatment by the party establishment, which favored Mitt Romney. In some cases, they said, rules were changed to help Romney and suppress Paul.
Now, it’s 2014, and Seaman has spent a year campaigning as a Libertarian.
He said his message is resonating. Voters are fed up with constant bickering between the major parties as well as their willingness to compromise on core beliefs, he said. Voters also like his message of fiscal discipline, replacing federal income taxes with a national sales tax and avoiding foreign wars, he said.
But his desire to legalize marijuana, though appreciated by younger voters, will take some getting used to for older voters, he said.
“I’m literally running to the right of Kevin Cramer and to the left of George Sinner, and that’s a pretty wide range of voters to appeal to,” he said.
Despite his optimism, Seaman isn’t under any delusion that he’ll win, he just believes that it’s possible to win – eventually.
Small as it may be now, he said, the Libertarian Party is the fastest growing party in the country, so if it doesn’t win this year, maybe it will in two years, or 10 or 20.
“An avalanche starts with a single snowflake,” he said.