By CASSIDY GEOGHEGAN/Montana State News
The importance of third party candidates has made a big impact in past elections around the country. For example, in Indiana, Missouri and Montana, the third party candidates played major roles in not only who would win the seat, but also who would control the U.S. House.
In Maine, Independent Angus Kind won. In the highly contested 2012 Montana Senate race, Dan Cox was able to gain 30,000 votes, a number high enough for many people to blame him for Republican Dennis Rehberg’s loss.
The difference in vote tallies between Democrat Jon Tester and Rehberg was under 19,000 votes. Analysts speculated that most of the votes Cox received were due to Republicans’ dissatisfaction with Rehberg record on civil liberties. Specifically, Rehberg sponsored the vastly unpopular bill that would give the U.S. Border Patrol access to all federal lands for border-security purposes. The sportsmen of Montana erupted in a fit of anger due to Rehberg’s support of the bill, accusing him of not caring about Montanans.
That is where Dan Cox comes in. A Hamilton, Mont., small-business owner, Cox set out to give dissatisfied Republicans an outlet in this year’s senate race. A Libertarian, Cox doesn’t believe people are following the Constitution of the United States anymore.
He wants to “reduce the federal government down to its constitutional size.” Cox was a former member of the Republican Party, but switched to the Libertarian party when he realized it was mere rhetoric and that they were no longer a party of principle.
Typically, third party candidates run to raise attention to certain issues, knowing they will not actually win. Whether Cox ran to intentionally give votes to Tester is not yet known. In 1996, a similar election was held with a big presence from a third party candidate. In the ’96 Montana Senate race, in which Baucus beat Rehberg, Becky Shaw of the Reform Party was able to get 4 percent of the vote, which was almost the exact difference between the Rehberg and Baucus vote totals.
Essentially, the 2012 Senate race was the second time Rehberg has lost due to a third party candidate. The interesting part of the 1996 race is that Becky Shaw used to be an aid for Max Baucus. Allegations were made that she was running just to take votes away from Rehberg, although that was never proven.
Third party candidates often get help from outside groups, and that was no exception in the 2012 race. Cox didn’t report how much he spent, but the group to run ads for him, Montana Hunters and Anglers Action, spent just under $1 million dollars, which does not include money spent in Glendive, Mont., according to Dr. David Parker, who is currently writing a book on the 2012 Montana Senate race. Those numbers do not include Glendive because he hasn’t received those numbers yet.
Third party candidates play crucial roles in elections, and that has been made apparent in this past year’s senate election. Often lacking personal funds to make substantial change, they rely on outside parties noticing them and realizing that they offer something different than the two-party system.