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Libertarians go missing in forums, polls

October 8, 2018

Wednesday night I heard words I never expected to hear at a League of Women Voters candidate forum.

“I don’t think we need to hear any more about zombies.”

That was moderator Meredith Machen of the local League admonishing Republican secretary of state candidate Gavin Clarkson, who had by that point used the phrase “zombies, aliens and dogs” several times, claiming that his Democratic opponent, incumbent Maggie Toulouse Oliver, was guilty of registering members of those three types of nontraditional voters to vote.

I assumed that “aliens” refer to undocumented immigrants and that “dogs” was a reference to an incident years ago in which the husband of a GOP operative registered his dog to vote, then went public with it to try to claim voter fraud was a serious problem in Bernalillo County when Toulouse Oliver was county clerk.

As for “zombies,” that was a clever — at least it was clever the first time — way of referring to dead people voting. (Toulouse Oliver said at the forum her office works with the Social Security Administration to clear the names of dead folks off the state voter rolls.)

But there was evidence of zombie activity at the forum itself Wednesday. Apparently there’s a zombie political party in the state.

The forum, which took place at Santa Fe Community College, was supposed to be for all candidates running for secretary of state and state land commissioner. But there were two empty chairs at the long table in the front of the room. Neither of the Libertarian Party’s candidates for those offices showed up.

At the outset of the event, Machen said Libertarian secretary of state candidate Ginger Grider of Portales had called to say she couldn’t make the forum. I don’t know why Libertarian land commissioner candidate Michael Lucero of Cañon didn’t show.

Perhaps they figured that Santa Fe is a big Democratic town — which is true — and that they wouldn’t have much to gain by driving all the way to the City Different to participate.

However, reporters from New Mexico’s two largest newspapers (and perhaps others I didn’t see there) plus a radio station were at the forum, so it would have been a good opportunity to get their ideas out there, especially when neither has much in the way of campaign funds.

Speaking of which, campaign fundraising might be a major reason to suspect the Libertarians are the party of zombies.

Instead of filing regular campaign finance reports, the most recent reports from both Lucero and Grider are merely short letters saying they hadn’t raised or spent any money since their previous reports.

Grider’s only two reports are like this. She came late to the race, not jumping in until last month. She replaced former Democrat Sandra Jeff, who won her unopposed primary but dropped out in August.

Before his most recent report, Lucero had collected two campaign contributions totaling $10,000. Both were from incumbent state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn Jr., who had been running for U.S. Senate, but dropped out in July to make way for former Gov. Gary Johnson, who was the national Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in the previous two elections.

Johnson made a big splash when he got into the Senate race. And, of course, it’s because of his 9 percent showing in the state in the 2016 presidential race that the Libertarians received its major-party status to begin with.

When he entered the race, many political observers thought Johnson would bring some excitement to a race that most assumed would be a dull blowout for incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich, whose Republican challenger Mick Rich was — and remains — underfunded and basically unknown.

But while Johnson’s candidacy got a lot of publicity for the Libertarians, it hasn’t translated into poll numbers. The Albuquerque Journal’s poll last month showed the former governor in third place with 16 percent of the vote. An earlier poll by Emerson College showed Johnson in second place with 21 percent.

We don’t know how much money Johnson has raised since he filed for Senate. That should be known fairly soon, but he’s got a long way to go before he approaches Heinrich’s $4.9 million.

Unless he and other Libertarian candidates pull a few quick rabbits out of their hats, the Libertarian Party will continue to look like the Zombie Party.

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