by Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
INDIANAPOLIS — Inside the Indiana Libertarian Party headquarters in downtown Indianapolis is a hardy band of volunteers who don’t see losing a political race quite the same way other people do.
They say the fact that there are 21 Libertarian candidates on the Indiana ballot – including candidates running for U.S. Congress, the Indiana General Assembly, governor and president – is in itself a victory.
The Libertarian Party is the only “minor” party that has guaranteed access to the Indiana ballot. It earned that access by meeting the state’s tough ballot-access laws, which requires a political party to earn at least 2 percent of the votes cast for secretary of state. Libertarians first gained automatic ballot access in 1994 and have hit their mark every four years since.
Still, it’s a struggle to compete as a third party in a system that favors the two big parties. As of the last fundraising tallies, which accounted for money raised through the end of June, the campaigns of Indiana’s Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates had raised a combined $14 million. The campaign of Libertarian candidate Rupert Boneham raised a tiny fraction of that, about $50,000.
That’s why Boneham’s campaign manager, Evan McMahon, works without a paycheck, surrounded by volunteers who believe in their cause as much – if not more – than their candidates.
“We’re trying to build a party. It’s hard, and it takes a lot of time,” said Chris Spangle, the executive director of the Indiana Libertarian Party – and its only paid staff member.
Spangle has spent time on the road with Boneham – the state party’s most visible candidate, thanks to his celebrity status as a three-time cast member on the “Survivor” reality-TV series. But it’s Boneham who’s often behind the wheel of the campaign’s loaned RV, driving himself and a couple of the campaign’s volunteer staff around the state. They forgo hotel rooms on overnight trips and sleep in the RV’s fold-out beds.
“There’s no grand plan for where we go,” said Boneham. “We look for events around the state and try to match up with as many of them as we can.”
It’s not an easy way to campaign. Boneham said he’s lost 20 pounds over the last year, pushing the Libertarian message of less government and more civil liberties.
“It’s been good for me. I’m clean and healthy,” he said.
Boneham’s running mate, Brad Klopfenstein, thinks Boneham’s campaign has been good for the party. Klopfenstein spent five years, from 2000 to 2005, as the state party’s executive director.
In his first year, he helped to recruit nearly 200 candidates to run for local and state offices on the Libertarian ticket. “We needed to make an impact,” Klopfenstein said.
His candidates suffered resounding losses.
“Maybe they weren’t the best candidates,” he said.
But they got the attention he wanted, and he’s convinced they helped clear the way for the handful of Libertarian candidates who have since been elected to local offices or appointed to local boards and commissions.
Klopfenstein likened it to building a baseball team – starting with a farm system that provides training for inexperienced candidates and support for the best to move up.
“I’ll put any of our candidates now up against any other candidate in the state of Indiana,” Klopfenstein said. “And while they might not win, that doesn’t mean they’re not the best candidate.”
• Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org