Local Elections

Third-party voters influence Governor, Senate races


MISSOULA, Mont. - Libertarian candidates showed stronger numbers in Montana than pre-election polls indicated.

In the race for the U.S. Senate seat, Libertarian Dan Cox was expected to get about one percent of the vote and he ended up with more than six percent.

Last week NBC Montana reported how a third-party group with Democratic ties paid for ads aimed at dividing Republican challenger Denny Rehberg's base, swaying it toward Cox.

No one's sure how money spent trying to split the conservative base affected the Libertarian vote in Montana.

Analysts say third parties usually gain strength when people are disgruntled with the other two parties and feel neither gives them the choice they want.

They say third parties are especially influential when a political race is already very close because the third party can take enough votes away from one candidate or the other to have a major influence on the outcome.

For example if all of Cox's votes had gone to Rehberg, Rehberg would have won the Senate seat and if all of Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Ron Vandevender's votes would have gone to Republican Rick Hill, Hill would have won the Governor's seat.

University of Montana Political Science Professor Christopher Muste has been watching the election closely and said with the Senate and Governor races so close, third-party votes became even more influential.

"We've really seen, simultaneously, the rise of the Tea Party in Montana as a powerful political force and the increased voting for these Libertarian candidates," Muste said.  "It may be more Tea Party activists than people who are necessarily being influenced by ads by these independent groups."

Political analysts say the two major parties usually try to reel in third-party voters but in this year's Montana elections they say it's still unusual how much of a percentage of the vote the two Libertarian candidates got for the Senate seat and for Governor.

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