Libertarians start the primary season

Chris Powell
Jan 14 · 8 min read
Libertarian presidential preference primaries for 2020

In both 1996 and 2000 Harry Browne won every Libertarian presidential preference primary that was held and went on to win the nomination at the LP convention. If you follow news of the Libertarian Party you may be aware that the performance artist known as Vermin Supreme won the first LP primary, held in New Hampshire, on Jan. 11th. Before you either panic at the thought of the nomination of a man who wears a boot on his head or alternatively begin preparing a stable for your free pony, it may be helpful to know that this was a party-organized vote that consisted of 110 ballots mailed to paid LP members, with 44 individuals choosing to participate. It’s also the case that Supreme has been in New Hampshire a lot over the years as part of his activities and has developed relationships with many prominent Libertarians in the state, with several of them endorsing him including the LPNH state chair and the vice-chair is on his campaign team. It’s also well known that many Libertarians in the state are not fond of their homegrown contender, Max Abramson, who wasn’t placed on the ballot.

Even with Supreme’s advantages, he barely eeked out a plurality, getting 18.57% of the final count of votes, but under the Bucklin Method that was utilized he is shown to have received support from 59% of participating voters. The full results were posted on the LPNH website on Jan. 14th. Voters were allowed to choose a first preference and a second preference and then were able to mark approval for as many other candidates as they liked. Of first preference votes, Supreme received 10(23%), Hornberger got 9(20%), and Ruff had 6(14%). Counting first and second preferences together, however, the top finisher was Kim Ruff with 15 votes while Supreme tied with Jorgensen at 13. In the final round of Approval Voting an additional 13 ballots added Vermin Supreme, with Ruff and Dan ‘Taxation is Theft’ Behrman picking up 7 each but again it should be noted that voters could list as many candidates as they wished in this final part of the process.

Regardless of any of the above considerations and even though the LP does not allow primaries to bind delegates to candidates at convention, Supreme did win the first actual contest. In the long run that by itself won’t mean a whole lot. Just ask Gary Nolan, who won every primary in 2004 only to lose at convention to Michael Badnarik. In 2008 Christine Smith won California and ‘Uncommitted’ won Missouri but neither became the nominee. A fringe candidate(even by alternative party standards) won the first primary in 2012 but received no delegate votes at convention. Getting the first win does not have the same value in alternative parties as in the two establishment parties. But the results do give us a starting place. Let’s take a look at the field.

Vermin Supreme — A good bit about Supreme’s advantages in New Hampshire is covered in the above paragraphs. In the 90’s he went through the legal process to change his name to what it is currently and he’s run for many offices over the years including president in every election since 2004. This appears to be the first time he’s run for anything as a Libertarian. He drifts back and forth between holding himself out as a serious candidate and using the schtick from his previous obviously satirical campaigns. It remains to be seen if he can parlay winning New Hampshire into positive results in areas where he is less personally connected and there will be larger numbers of voters.

Kim Ruff — A favorite of many activists, Ruff has held party positions in New York and in Arizona. She was praised for a no compromise approach and offered a choice that rank and file Libertarians could identify with. She had a strong showing in New Hampshire but announced that she would be withdrawing from the race for personal reasons. Ruff is still on the primary ballots for California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Ohio.

Jo Jorgensen — The 1996 VP candidate for the LP did well in New Hampshire despite having been in the race for a shorter amount of time and being less visible compared to some of the other candidates. With Ruff’s withdrawal Jo becomes the high profile female in the contest, although that may not be a big consideration for many Libertarian voters. She also has the long association with the LP and her credentials as a professor of psychology at Clemson. Dr. Jorgensen can be one of the serious contenders but only if she is able to demonstrate support. One way to do that is to do well in upcoming primaries.

Dan Behrman — Going by Dan “Taxation is Theft” Berhman, he is another activist favorite and has had a bit of fundraising success and may also benefit from Ruff’s withdrawal, but one wonders how much room for candidates with funny hats there might be. It’s difficult to see Behrman as the eventual nominee but he’s doing enough to hang around. More finishes in the upper half in the primaries that are coming will allow him to make some noise at convention.

Jacob Hornberger — Like Jo Jorgensen, Hornberger has been around for a long time and has credentials that set him apart from much of the field. He also is closely identified with Ron Paul, an advantage with many LP members but a strike against for others. He is more of an ideological purist but is more focused on using the primaries than any other candidate, actively campaigning in North Carolina and being the only filer in Missouri where it’ll just be him and None of the Above. If that strategy results in momentum-building wins heading in to the convention he may well be the front-runner or even presumptive nominee and will have that organizational approach to utilize in the general election.

Sam Robb — Robb bills himself as a conservative libertarian which will put off a lot of LP members but will attract some. The engineer from Pittsburgh also doesn’t seem to have had much presence in the party prior to deciding to run for president. We don’t have any campaign finance data on Robb yet, so we don’t know what kind of resources he has to put into upcoming primaries or other campaign activities.

Arvin Vohra — The former LNC Vice-chair has gained notoriety, if not popularity, as a rhetorical bomb-thrower. He’s gone after veterans, vocally opposed age of consent laws, and joked about violence against members of public school boards. These comments resulted in two separate votes of the LNC on motions to remove Vohra but neither recieved the necessary two-thirds majority, allowing him to continue in the position until he lost re-election to Alex Merced. It’s difficult to see how the abrasive Vohra can generate any substantial level of support.

Mark Whitney — A sketch comedy podcaster whose done a successful one-man show and also created a software company called TheLaw.Net to make legal research easier, he’s also a long-time Libertarian who has given money, run for office, and been on the LNC. But he just started campaigning last week. He was a write-in for New Hampshire and isn’t on any other ballots. Maybe he can generate support for the convention but it won’t be easy.

Lincoln Chafee — As a former Senator and Governor one might think that the LP would be more than happy to have Chafee as a candidate, but there is a long-standing aversion among some in the party to any establishment party latecomers to the LP. Chafee has held some decidedly not libertarian positions in the past, such as favoring gun control, and fell flat in his last run for office when he sought the Democrat nomination for President in 2016. Prior to that he was Independent and before that he was Republican. He’s not on a primary ballot until after Super Tuesday so it won’t be until then that we can see if Libertarian voters are willing to back him.

Max Abramson — Abramson is the only individual currently in office seeking the Libertarian nomination but he was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives after switching back to Republican. For that and perhaps other reasons he is not popular with the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire, as evidenced by the fact that he wasn’t listed on their primary ballot. They insist they e-mailed him but he says they didn’t but either way they clearly made no effort to make sure he was aware, although obviously Abramson wasn’t paying attention to know he needed to file with them. Either way, we’ll see how much his home state will or won’t matter as more contests take place.

Adam Kokesh — He announced his campaign in 2013 and raised (and spent) more money than any of his competitors, but many find his proposal to liquidate the federal government upon taking office to be unrealistic. Kokesh is a veteran, radio host, and author and as early as 2018 he was traveling around the country to Libertarian state and local events in his tour bus. He is well known within the LP but that doesn’t necessarily translate into support. It’s also curious as to why he wasn’t on the primary ballot in New Hampshire. We’ll know more about where he stands after the upcoming contests in Iowa and on Super Tuesday.

Individuals that have not indicated they are presidential candidates who received votes were Justin Amash with 3 and Tom Knapp, J B Henchman, and Nic Sarwark getting 1 each. Announced candidates on the New Hampshire LP primary ballot that received no votes were Ken Armstrong, Keenan Dunham, Erik Gerhardt, and Arlen Wright.

The next contest will be the Iowa caucus on February 8th.

Chris Powell

Written by

Chris is a former chair of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party and in 2018 was the first LP nominee for Governor in the state.

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