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Record-Setting 3rd Party and Independent Candidacies Abound in 2012 US Senate Races

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Five candidates set all-time statewide records for non-major party candidates in U.S. Senate races this cycle

angusking10.jpgWhile the big story coming out of last Tuesday's U.S. Senate elections was the Democratic caucus holding onto several vulnerable seats and actually expanding their advantage over the GOP, the 2012 cycle was also a big day for independents and third party candidates.

Not only did two independents in the northeast take home the grand prize, but other non-major party candidates also set statewide marks in Maryland, Missouri, and West Virginia.

The Libertarian Party also turned in its strongest ever performances in five states.

All of these races were ultimately won by candidates who will caucus with the Democratic Party, although few third party and independents tilted the outcome - aside from those who won.

A Smart Politics review of U.S. Senate election data since direct elections were introduced nearly a century ago finds that records were set in five states on November 6th for the largest percentage of the vote ever received by an independent or third party candidate.

At the top of the list are the winning candidacies in Maine and Vermont.

In Maine, former two-term independent governor Angus King easily cruised to a victory in the open seat race, winning 52.9 percent of the vote.

That is more than seven times better than the previous mark held by independent Hayes Gahagan who won 7.4 percent in 1978 in a race won by Republican William Cohen.

In Vermont, independent Bernie Sanders notched 70.4 percent to win his second term to the U.S. Senate. That was a 5.0-point improvement on his 65.4 tally in 2006.

In Maryland, independent Rob Sobhani won 16.8 percent in a four candidate race won by Democrat Ben Cardin - helping to splinter the anti-incumbent vote and give the Republican Party its lowest ever percentage in a U.S. Senate race.

Sobhani bested a mark held for 44 years when American Party candidate George Mahoney received 13.1 percent in the 1968 contest won by Republican Mac Matthias.

In Missouri, Libertarian Jonathan Dine - making his second run for the nation's upper legislative chamber - won 6.1 percent as Democrat Claire McCaskill cruised to a second term.

Dine now holds the best record for a non-major party candidate in the Show Me State as he eclipsed Libertarian Bill Johnson's 4.6 percent tally from 1994 in a contest won by Republican John Ashcroft.

In 2010, Dine captured 3.0 percent of the vote as Republican Roy Blunt won the open seat race.

In West Virginia, Mountain Party candidate Bob Baber received 3.0 percent in a race easily won by Democratic incumbent and former Governor Joe Manchin.

The state has not had a rich history of third party candidates in U.S. Senate races, as Baber eclipsed the previous record held by Libertarian Joe Whelan in 2000 of 2.1 percent as Democrat Robert Byrd won his eighth term.

A sixth noteworthy record took place in Nevada.

In the Silver State's U.S. Senate race, 4.5 percent of voters opted for "none of the above" which is the highest level across the 13 such races that have been conducted with that option on the ballot since 1976.

The largest percentage of Nevadans voting for 'none of the above' was previously 3.6 percent in the 1986 open contest won by Democrat Harry Reid.

Lastly, in addition to the aforementioned Libertarian nominee Dine setting a new benchmark for all non-major party candidates in Missouri, four other candidates set new Libertarian statewide records in U.S. Senate races this cycle.

In Montana, Libertarian Dan Cox won 6.5 percent of the vote - in a race Democrat Jon Tester won by 4.0 points over Republican challenger Denny Rehberg. Cox eclipsed Larry Dodge's 3.9 percent mark from 1982.

In Wisconsin, Joseph Kexel tallied 2.1 percent which more than doubled the previous best performance for a Libertarian Party nominee in the state - 0.8 percent by Tim Peterson in 2000.

In Connecticut, Libertarian Paul Passarelli recorded 1.7 percent of the vote - nearly doubling the previous statewide mark of 0.9 percent for the party held by Howard Grayson for nearly a quarter of a century since 1988.

In Maryland, Dean Ahmad was the first Libertarian ever to appear on the ballot and won 1.2 percent of the vote.

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Political Crumbs

No 100-Year Curse for Roberts

Defeating his Tea Party primary challenger Milton Wolf with just 48.1 percent of the vote, Pat Roberts narrowly escaped becoming the first elected U.S. Senator from Kansas to lose a renomination bid in 100 years. The last - and so far only - elected U.S. Senator to lose a Kansas primary was one-term Republican Joseph Bristow in 1914. Bristow was defeated by former U.S. Senator Charles Curtis who went on to win three terms before becoming Herbert Hoover's running mate in 1928. Only one other U.S. Senator from the Sunflower State has lost a primary since the passage of the 17th Amendment: Sheila Frahm in 1996. Frahm was appointed to fill Bob Dole's seat earlier that year and finished 13.2 points behind Sam Brownback in the three-candidate primary field. Overall, incumbent senators from Kansas have won 29 times against two defeats in the direct vote era. (Curtis also lost a primary in 1912 to Walter Stubbs, one year before the nation moved to direct elections).


The Second Time Around

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez became the seventh major party or second place gubernatorial candidate in Colorado to get a second chance at the office when he narrowly won his party's nomination last month. Two of the previous six candidates were successful. Democrat Alva Adams lost his first gubernatorial bid to Benjamin Eaton in 1884, but was victorious two years later against William Meyer. Democrat Charles Johnson placed third in 1894 behind Republican Albert McIntyre and Populist incumbent Governor David Waite but returned as the Fusion (Democrat/Populist) nominee in 1898 and defeated GOPer Henry Wolcott. Gubernatorial candidates who received a second chance but lost both general elections include Democrat Thomas Patterson (1888, 1914), Progressive Edward Costigan (1912, 1914), Republican Donald Brotzman (1954, 1956), and Republican David Strickland (1978, 1986).


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