How third-party candidates fared in Iowa's 2010 elections

This summer, the Libertarian Party in Iowa embarked on a “10 percent strategy,” hoping to win 2 percent of the vote for governor in order to secure major-party status in 2012. Iowa lacks a tradition of strong third-party voting like our neighbor to the north, and the unofficial results indicate that no alternative to Terry Branstad and Chet Culver cleared the 2 percent threshold in the governor’s race. Iowa Party candidate Jonathan Narcisse came closer to that mark than Libertarian Eric Cooper.

Although no third party is set up to have a larger statewide impact in 2012, minor party candidates received an unusually high share of the vote in some areas. In a few races, the votes for third-party candidates exceeded the difference between the Democrat and the Republican.

Federal offices

Minor-party candidates may have helped secure a third term for Representative Bruce Braley in Iowa’s first Congressional district. Braley narrowly defeated Republican Ben Lange by 4,315 votes according to the unofficial results (49.5 percent to 47.5 percent). Libertarian candidate Rob Petsche received 4,072 votes (1.93 percent), and Jason Faulkner received 2085 votes (0.99 percent). Petsche campaigned on the message of “more freedom, less government.” Faulkner was nominated by petition and had no party label next to his name. During his campaign, he talked about protecting Second Amendment rights, criticized government bailouts and called for slashing taxes and government spending.

If I were a Republican in IA-01, I’d be frustrated that two conservative candidates received votes that could have made the difference for Lange. However, you can’t assume that everyone who voted for Petsche or Faulkner would have checked the box next to Lange. Some of them might have written in a name or left that part of the ballot blank.

All four other U.S. House races in Iowa had at least one candidate representing a minor party or nominated by petition, but the votes those candidates received weren’t enough to affect the outcome in any race. In the second district, Dave Loebsack won a third term with a margin of 11,286 votes over Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, 51 percent to 46 percent. Libertarian Gary Sicard received 4,327 votes (1.9 percent), while Constitution Party candidate Jon Tack won 2449 votes (1.1 percent). Both Sicard and Tack campaigned to the right of Miller-Meeks.

Fortunately for Loebsack, who seemed vulnerable this fall, he had no challenger from the left in 2010. Green Party candidate Wendy Barth received a little more than 2 percent of the vote in IA-02 in 2008.

In the third Congressional district, Democratic incumbent Leonard Boswell beat Republican Brad Zaun by 9,578 votes according to unofficial results, 50.6 percent to 46.6 percent. Zaun had no competition from the right; the only other candidate on the ballot was Rebecca Williamson of the Socialist Workers’ Party. She campaigned against the capitalist system and won 6190 votes (2.6 percent). Support for Williamson wasn’t concentrated in left-leaning areas; she did as well or better in some conservative parts of IA-03 (more than 4 percent of the vote in Lucas County, where Zaun edged Bowell). I suspect her voters were rejecting Boswell and Zaun rather than seeking to replace capitalism with socialism. Negative advertising dominated the campaign in this district.

In the fourth district, Tom Latham won a ninth term by more than a 2-1 margin over Democrat Bill Maske, leading him by 78,176 votes (65.7 percent to 32 percent). The only other candidate on the ballot was independent Dan Lensing, who won 5338 votes (2.3 percent). His ideas on the federal budget leaned to the conservative side; his research on economics inspired him to run for Congress. Lensing currently is working on a doctorate in economics in Kansas, so he spent almost no time campaigning in IA-04. I doubt many of his voters were aware of his platform, which included a plan to phase out Social Security over 50 years.

In the fifth district, Steve King won a fifth term by a 65,107 vote margin over Democrat Matt Campbell. The only other candidate on the ballot was Martin James Monroe, who gained 3,602 votes (1.85 percent). Monroe was nominated by petition and had no party label next to his name. He campaigned for term limits and against both parties, but his rhetoric leaned a little more to the left: for a strong jobs bill and against Ronald Regan’s trickle-down theory, deregulation of banks and Halliburton making big profits in Iraq. Although Monroe lives in Sioux City, he didn’t receive an unusually high number of votes in Woodbury County; his vote share there was actually a bit lower than district-wide.

In the U.S. Senate race, where Senator Chuck Grassley won a sixth term by a 64 percent to 33 percent margin over Democrat Roxanne Conlin, Libertarian John Heiderscheit received 25,168 votes, just under 2.3 percent. Unfortunately for his party, that showing won’t secure major-party status for Libertarians.

Statewide offices

The big disappointment for Libertarians was the governor’s race, where Eric Cooper received 14,293 or just under 1.3 percent. Jonathan Narcisse nearly secured major-party status for his Iowa Party, winning 20,747 votes statewide (1.9 percent). More than a fifth of the votes for Narcisse (4,486) came in his home base of Polk County. The Socialist Workers’ Party candidate for governor, David Rosenfeld, won 2,730 votes (0.24 percent), while independent Gregory James Hughes won 3,846 votes (0.34 percent).

The only other third-party candidate nominated for a statewide office was Libertarian Jake Porter for secretary of state. He won 33,683 votes (3.1 percent), which was more than the 31,050 votes by which Republican Matt Schultz defeated Michael Mauro (50 percent to 47 percent). I wouldn’t say Porter cost Mauro the election, however. I assume that most Libertarian voters were conservatives who would not have leaned toward Mauro without Porter on the ballot.

Iowa House and Senate districts

Third-party candidates contested only a few legislative districts. Dan Nieland of Altoona may have been the most influential. He ran in House district 42 with no party affiliation and won 514 votes (3.6 percent). Republican Kim Pearson defeated longtime Democratic incumbent Geri Huser by only 159 votes according to the unofficial results. One can’t assume that Huser would have earned enough votes to win had Nieland not been on the ballot–perhaps he took some anti-incumbent votes that would otherwise have helped Pearson win by a larger margin. Nieland campaigned on a broad anti-incumbent message about accountability, while Pearson took strongly conservative positions on the issues.

Only four other Iowa House races had third-party candidates on the ballot. Incumbent Dave Jacoby of Coralville had no Republican opponent in House district 30. He won 79 percent of the vote against Libertarian Dustin Krutsinger, who gained 2,550 votes (20.4 percent).

In district 46, including part of the Ames area, Libertarian Tyler Pauly won 347 votes (2.5 percent). Democratic incumbent Lisa Heddens won with more than 56 percent of the vote.

In district 64, including part of Des Moines, conservative Vicki Stogdill was nominated by petition and won 1,469 votes (12.7 percent). Even if you added all her votes to Republican Dan Kennedy’s total, incumbent Janet Petersen would have easily been re-elected.

Green Party candidate David Arthur Smithers won 305 votes (2.6 percent) in House district 89. Republican Jarad Klein would have won this race even if Smithers hadn’t taken a single vote from the left away from conservative Democrat Larry Marek. Klein received nearly 54 percent of the vote.

Minor-party candidates gained ballot access in two of the 25 Iowa Senate districts up for re-election. In Senate district 15, Bob Dvorsky didn’t have a Republican opponent, and Libertarian Christopher Peters won 6071 votes (25.2 percent).

I thought third-party candidates from the right might cause trouble for Republican Sandy Greiner in Senate district 45. Unofficial results showed Douglas Philips of the Iowa Party winning 1,129 votes there (4.9 percent). That’s fairly strong for a third-party candidate, but it wasn’t enough to make a difference in the race. Greiner defeated Democrat Becky Schmitz by 1,481 votes.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread.

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  • Narcisse

    I did see Narcisse across the street from a labor union event for Roxanne and Chet Culver in Keokuk the Saturday before the election.  I must say he did better than I thought he would.  I suspect he may have gotten people to the polls who otherwise would have sat this one out.  I have to tip my hat to him for the effort.  

    Larry Marek had no online presence that I am aware of other than ActBlue so I was a little surprised Smithers didn’t do better by default among more liberal voters even though Marek is more representative of the views of his district.  

  • Where My Votes Came From

    It appears that I probably did take more votes from Michael than I did Mr. Schultz; however it is difficult to say how many.  

    Michael and I had similar ideas on the photo id issue and both of us were opposed to bringing economic development into the Secretary of State’s office which our Republican opponent made his top issues.  I also know some Republicans that would have voted Mauro, but voted for me because I was on the ballot.  Additionally, I had my advertising target Independents and younger voters which both tend to be more likely to vote Democrat in Iowa.

    On the other hand, I don’t believe there is anyway possible that I took enough votes from Michael to cost him the election.  

  • One correction

    Full-party status in Iowa is not done on a district basis (it IS in a few states) but on governor (or president) only. Libertarians keep their “political organization” (AKA minor party) status.

    I’d say it’s a disappointment for the LP that Cooper came in under two percent when pre-election polling showed a big Branstad lead. Cooper even (no time to dig for the cite) explicitly argued that Branstad was sure to win so you should throw the Libertarians a vote. But instead the election became a referendum on Culver.

    At least Cooper made the ballot, which is more than the Constitution Party or the Greens did statewide.

    Jake I believe Schultz was over 50 percent in your race. The only races I see where the third parties were more than the margin were Braley and the Huser race. (I’m not shedding many tears over her defeat.)

    • I didn't mean to imply

      parties got full-party status per district.

      I thought Cooper could have done more in the fall to paint Branstad as a big-government Republican. Branstad was trying to move to the center, saying he’s now for preschool, etc. It was an opening for a Libertarian to say to conservatives, Branstad doesn’t have your back, send him a message. But I recognize it’s hard to get journalists to pay attention to what minor-party candidates say.