Thursday, August 31, 2006

First Look 2008: LP Situation Report

A few months ago, I started a series of articles on candidates for the Libertarian Party's 2008 presidential nomination, eventually posting some general thoughts, some asides, and profiles of Karen Kwiatkowski, Michael Badnarik and George Phillies.

I paused in that series because, as of that time, I wasn't seeing serious activity from other actual or prospective candidates. Now I'm involved with a new party which may very well run a slate of its own, so it's only reasonable to assume that I'm writing this and future articles in the series from a decidedly different perspective.

Still, keeping up with what's going on in the LP is worthwhile, and I'd like to bring things up to date a bit:

- Candidates who had announced prior to the series hiatus, but whom I have not yet covered, include Lance Brown, Jim Burns, Dave Hollist and Robert Milnes (thanks to Politics1 for keeping a handy reference list). I may profile some or all of them in the future. Right now, the only one of these "other guys" who seems to be even remotely active is Milnes (see his recent interview at The Next Prez).

- Since my last article, at least four new candidates -- Gene Chapman, Steve Kubby, Christine Smith and Doug Stanhope have thrown their hats in the ring. Addtionally, the obviously libertarian Kent McManigal has announced his candidacy, but has not specified any particular party's nomination as his goal. [Note: I am not sure of the timeline on the Chapman and McManigal announcements -- I just know that I noticed them recently rather than earlier]

Some quick and dirty prognostication:

As I see it, the LP's nomination is, as of right now, Steve Kubby's to lose. I'm not saying that just because I like him (although I do, and although I supported him for the VP nomination in 2000). I'm saying it because he has some chops.

- Kubby is a capable campaigner with real political experience in helping put Proposition 215, California's "medical marijuana" law, over the top.

- He has a base of support in the party (and, unlike George Phillies, does not seem to have a base of firm opposition to match it).

- He has a base of support outside the party in the drug law reform movement. He announced his candidacy to a mob of 50,000 screaming Hempfest attendees. Most LP presidential candidates don't get near a mic in front of 50,000 people even after their nominations.

- He's successfully raised funds for various projects, and I have no doubt that his "past donor" Rolodex is, or shortly will be, smoking from use.

- His ongoing legal case has generated some name recognition for him, and that name recognition tends toward the positive, at least among people who won't dismiss marijuana advocates out of hand. The case is generally, and correctly, perceived as the railroading of a political threat, not the prosecution of a criminal.

I am not suggesting that Steve Kubby is the best possible nominee -- others may enter the race, and personally I think Kubby would be smarter to run for governor of California again in 2010 and president in 2012, as 2008 is going to be a foreign policy referendum, not a plebiscite on the drug war -- but he's starting his bid with formidable pre-existing advantages over his current opponents, and the LP could certainly do worse.

Let's talk about "worse" for a minute. I have nothing against Doug Stanhope. I think he's a funny guy. He has some name recognition as well. Unfortunately, that name recognition is generally associated with dick jokes and the direct marketing of videos featuring topless co-eds. I have nothing against dick jokes or topless co-eds, either, mind you ... but I'm having real trouble taking "Stanhope 2008" seriously (especially since the Politics1 link to his campaign web site leads to a search-engine-optimized link farm).

There's something to be said for "celebrity candidates," but let's think this over for a minute. Dennis Miller is a celebrity comedian. So is Al Franken. I don't see either one of them on the list of front-runners for their parties' presidential nominations. There's a reason for that. A comedian who has never been elected to prior public office running for the presidency of the United States is, and will be seen as ... a joke. For that matter, comedians like Sonny Bono and that guy from "Love Boat" made it to Congress, but were never considered serious presidential prospects.

And, while running a comedian for the presidency might increase the LP's vote total in 2008, that would be purely a matter of novelty value. Novelty value wears off quickly, and the LP has 2012 and after to think about. Doug Stanhope is the pet rock of LP presidential prospects. Even if his candidacy sold wildly in 2008, the party on whose ticket he ran would be stuck out in the garage with the round tuits and "Garfield" freaked-out-cat car window stick-ons four years later and for some time after that.

No, Steve Kubby is not as well-known as Doug Stanhope (who, by the way, isn't particularly well-known) ... but Kubby is probably more well-known than any past LP presidential nominee was at the time of his first nomination. And he's known for political activism, not for one-liners.

Of course, all bets are off if the evil one enters the arena. But right now, I'm betting on Kubby. At present, the only other candidate I'm seeing who deserves a shot at the nomination based on doing the work involved in an active campaign is George Phillies, and I'm unconvinced that that work will pay off for him.

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