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Will a Libertarian Tilt Missouri's U.S. Senate Race?

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The victory margin in only 1 of 37 Missouri U.S. Senate races has been narrower than the vote received by the leading third place candidate

jonathandine10.jpgA new report by The New Republic published on Monday profiled the third candidate who will be on the ballot in the high profile U.S. Senate battle between one-term Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Republican establishment-disowned GOP nominee Todd Akin.

The report speculated how that candidate, Libertarian Jonathan Dine, might be the difference maker in November's race.

The theory is that disgruntled Akin voters who cannot bring themselves to vote for McCaskill now have an alternative in the Libertarian candidate.

And while Dine pulled in 3.0 percent during his 2010 U.S. Senate run and the last few polls show the race within low single digits, there has been little historical precedent in the Show Me State that points to third party candidates swinging a senate race.

A Smart Politics review of Missouri U.S. Senate election data finds that of the 37 general and special election contests held since 1914, the victorious candidate received a majority of the vote in 34 of them.

This means that in these 34 contests, the sum of all third party votes, even if each one were cast against the losing second place finisher, did not alter the outcome of the race.

Of the three remaining races in which the winning candidate did not receive 50 percent of the vote, two occurred over the last decade:

· Republican Jim Talent's special election win with 49.8 percent of the vote in 2002 over Democratic incumbent Jean Carnahan.

· Claire McCaskill's victory over Talent four years later in 2006 with 49.6 percent of the vote.

In both of those contests, however the victory margin was larger than the vote received by the third place finisher - libertarians in both cases.

In 2002, Talent defeated Carnahan by 1.13 points with Libertarian nominee Tamara Millay coming in third with just 0.98 percent of the vote.

In 2006, McCaskill defeated Talent by 2.27 points with Libertarian Frank Gilmour receiving the support of 2.25 percent of Missouri voters on Election Day.

That leaves just one race out of 37 in Missouri history since the introduction of popular vote U.S. Senate races 98 years ago in which it could be theoretically argued that a third party candidate altered the outcome of a race.

That race took place in 1944.

In that cycle, two-term Democratic incumbent Joel Bennett failed to receive his party's nomination, losing by 5.5 points to Missouri Attorney General Roy McKittrick (pictured).

McKittrick squared off in the general election against Republican Governor Forrest Donnell.

Donnell ended up defeating McKittrick by just 1,988 votes, or 0.13 percentage points, 49.95 to 49.82 percent.

Also running in that race were two left of center third party candidates: Socialist Party nominee Doris Preisler and Socialist Labor nominee William Cox.

Cox only received 215 votes, but the 3,320 votes received by the Preisler was 1,300+ votes greater than Donnell's victory margin over the Democratic nominee McKittrick.

That marks the only election cycle in which it can at least be theoretically speculated that a general election outcome was tipped by a third party candidacy in a Missouri U.S. Senate race.

In the most recent poll to include his name among the candidate choices, Dine was the candidate of choice for 4 percent of likely voters.

That poll, by SurveyUSA, was conducted a week before Akin's controversial comments about rape and pregnancy.

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Remains of the Data

No Free Passes: States With 2 Major Party Candidates in Every US House Race

Indiana has now placed candidates from both major parties on the ballot in a nation-best 189 consecutive U.S. House races, with New Hampshire, Minnesota, Idaho, and Montana also north of 100 in a row.

Political Crumbs

Gubernatorial Highs and Lows

Two sitting governors currently hold the record for the highest gubernatorial vote ever received in their respective states by a non-incumbent: Republican Matt Mead of Wyoming (65.7 percent in 2010) and outgoing GOPer Dave Heineman of Nebraska (73.4 percent in 2006). Republican Gary Herbert of Utah had not previously won a gubernatorial contest when he notched a state record 64.1 percent for his first victory in 2010, but was an incumbent at the time after ascending to the position in 2009 after the early departure of Jon Huntsman. Meanwhile, two sitting governors hold the record in their states for the lowest mark ever recorded by a winning gubernatorial candidate (incumbent or otherwise): independent-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island (36.1 percent in 2010) and Democrat Terry McAuliffe of Virginia (47.8 percent in 2013).


An Idaho Six Pack

Two-term Idaho Republican Governor Butch Otter only polled at 39 percent in a recent PPP survey of the state's 2014 race - just four points ahead of Democratic businessman A.J. Balukoff. Otter's low numbers reflect his own struggles as a candidate (witness his weak primary win against State Senator Russ Fulcher) combined with the opportunity for disgruntled Idahoans to cast their votes for one of four third party and independent candidates, who collectively received the support of 12 percent of likely voters: Libertarian John Bujak, the Constitution Party's Steve Pankey, and independents Jill Humble and Pro-Life (aka Marvin Richardson). The six candidate options in a gubernatorial race sets an all-time record in the Gem State across the 46 elections conducted since statehood. The previous high water mark of five candidates was reached in seven previous cycles: 1902, 1904, 1908, 1912, 1914, 1966, and 2010.


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