Friday, August 24, 2018

FiveThirtyEight: Could A Libertarian Win A Senate Race This Year?

The following was originally published in Five Thirty Eight.

You know when you go see a good popcorn movie and the fun sidekick character doesn’t get nearly enough screen time, but then they announce a sequel that puts that character front and center? In politics, that’s Gary Johnson. The former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico turned Libertarian presidential candidate got 3.3 percent of the popular vote in the 2016 election — more than 4 million votes — but it seemed like that would be the last we’d hear from him. But fortunately for Johnson superfans, that’s not how it worked out: After the Libertarian candidate in New Mexico’s U.S. Senate race dropped out last month, the New Mexico Libertarian Party drafted Johnson into the race.
The field was particularly inviting for Johnson because the GOP wasn’t taking this race that seriously. The only Republican on the primary ballot was Mick Rich, an Albuquerque contractor who had never run for office before. That, plus Johnson’s residual name recognition in the Land of Enchantment, has raised the possibility that Johnson, not Rich, could be the main threat to topple Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich this fall.

And so our poll of the week is an Emerson College survey released Monday suggesting exactly that. Heinrich led the poll, conducted Aug. 17-18 among 500 registered voters, with 39 percent, but Johnson came in second with 21 percent. Rich received 11 percent, and 30 percent were still undecided. Crucially, Emerson found that the secret to Johnson’s success was that he had surpassed Rich as the choice of both Republicans (Johnson led Rich 27-25 among GOP voters) and independents (Johnson led Rich 25-7 among independents, with Heinrich receiving 32 percent). Probably in order to counter this narrative, the next day Rich’s campaign released its own poll of the race that claimed Heinrich led Rich “only” 41 percent to 34 percent, with Johnson way back at 19 percent...

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