Story by Mike Dennison, MTN News
HELENA, Mont. – Land surveyor and Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Rick Breckenridge says the media pretty much ignores his candidacy – so he does his campaigning one-on-one, meeting voters in grocery stores, on the street, or wherever he can.
Breckenridge, 59, says he often finds himself explaining what Libertarians are and what they stand for – minimal government, individual liberties – and arguing that a vote for Libertarians is not a wasted vote.
“The problems that we have, we can’t solve by voting the same way we have, that created the problems,” he told MTN News in a recent interview. “It’s time to vote and do things a little differently.”
Breckenridge is one of two Libertarians running for Montana’s seats in Congress this year. The other one is Elinor Swanson, a Billings attorney and first-time candidate competing for Montana’s only U.S. House seat.
Swanson, 36, calls herself a “moderate Libertarian,” and says she gravitated toward the party because it most closely reflects her views of fiscal restraint and social liberalism.
“Individual liberties, actually being socially tolerant, actually being fiscally responsible – when you’re a Libertarian, you mean that,” she says. “It’s not just lip service.”
Swanson has a campaign website and makes the occasional public campaign appearance, like when she and her sons stood outside President Trump’s rally two weeks ago in Billings, wearing her campaign T-shirts and displaying signs.
Libertarians routinely appear on the ballot in Montana for various seats but haven’t won a race for decades. Eighteen Libertarians are running for the state House or Senate, and Libertarian Roger Roots is running for the only other statewide office up this year, Montana Supreme Court clerk.
Conventional wisdom says Libertarians on the ballot can dilute the vote for conservatives, often helping the Democrat on the ballot in a three-way race.
But Montana State University political scientist David Parker says there’s no hard evidence to back up that theory.
People who vote Libertarian may not vote at all, if they couldn’t vote for a Libertarian, or may cast a “protest vote” that could otherwise go to a Republican or Democrat, he says.
“I would hazard a guess that they’re more likely to draw from Republicans, but the only way you could know is if you went out and did a massive survey of Libertarian voters,” Parker says. “Which is hard enough, because there aren’t a lot of them.”
Breckenridge ran for the U.S. House in 2016, finishing a distant third behind Republican then-Rep. Ryan Zinke and Democrat Denise Juneau, with 3.2 percent of the vote.
This year, he’s competing against Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Tester and Republican Matt Rosendale in the state’s highest-profile race. What scant polling has occurred has shown Breckenridge with a few percentage points, when it even mentions his name.
He says a lot of Montanans are really Libertarians but just don’t realize it, and he hopes they consider voting that way this November.
“Every person out here has a Libertarian in ‘em,” he says. “They have freedom in ‘em – their liberty. And we just have to give them the strength to exercise that.”
Breckenridge said Libertarians simply want to pare back government spending, as much as possible, and stop government encroachment on personal liberties and the free market.
Swanson says the out-of-control federal debt is what inspired her to run for office, saying the Republican tax cuts of 2017 are really just a “tax deferral” that all Americans will end up paying for in the future.
“It drives me crazy – neither party is fiscally responsible,” she says. “I think less is more – fewer laws, fewer regulations. … My view of the law is that the role of the law is to define and prohibit harm. Other than that, it should just leave people alone.”