Monday, November 25, 2002

Rachel DiCarlo, at the Weekly Standard's website, repeats the claim that Libertarian Kurt Evans cost Republican John Thune the South Dakota Senate race. As I've blogged before, this claim is almost certainly not true. While Evans did indeed get more votes than separated Thune from Johnson, that was weeks after Evans had dropped out of the race and endorsed Thune. This means that the Libertarian-Republican swing voters are very likely to have swung to Thune. (The 3,000 votes represents a much smaller share of the vote than Evans was picking up in polls before he dropped out.) The remaining 3,000 probably wouldn't have voted for Thune in any event; and on net Evans helped Thune (first, by swinging his way those voters who could be swung; second, by keeping 3,000 of the other voters from voting for Johnson).

It's true that, most of the time in most states, Libertarians drain more Republican votes than they do Democratic ones (though not by nearly the same margin as Greens drain more Democratic votes than Republican ones). But in this race it wasn't. Kurt Evans did something that was most unusual for a political candidate. He genuinely tried to help one of his opponents to win. For the Republican commentariat to keep criticizing him for costing their guy the race is deeply unfair.

Pointing out the idiosyncratic facts about this race of course seems like a distraction from the big argument about whether voting for Libertarians hurts freedom by hurting freedom-minded Republicans, or helps it by focusing the minds and energy of Republicans on protecting their libertarian flank, the argument over third parties and strategies and tactics. But I want to insist on the details of the particular case, before "Evans cost the Republicans a seat" becomes too entrenched in people's memories.

After my first post on this topic, I recieved an e-mail from Evans himself. He said that he's been "trying to lay low and be quiet," but he's clearly irked by the unfair attacks on him. (Some of those attacks have been from Libertarians calling him a traitor, others from Republicans who believe the story that he cost Thune the race.)

"First of all, my actual support of roughly 3
percent was acquired mostly by positioning myself
as a protest against attack ads. My opponents both
said I was drawing from them about equally.

"But let's assume that *every vote* finally cast
for me (91/100ths of 1 percent) would otherwise been
cast for Congressman Thune.

"When I gave him my endorsement, I drew attention
to the voter fraud controversy and said it was a
reminder that our entire political system depends
on truth and honesty.

"I went on to say that it had become apparent
to me that Congressman Thune shared my commitment
to being a man of integrity and character.

"The announcement got tremendous media play
on television and radio and in the newspapers.

"If my endorsement shifted 46/100ths of 1
percent of the vote away from Johnson and toward
Thune, the net effect of my candidacy was to narrow
the margin of victory."

Republicans: Send this gentleman an apology, and a thank-you note, not continued flak.

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