It’s five weeks before election day, and we have no idea which political party will control the U.S. Senate come January. FiveThirtyEight reckons that the two likeliest scenarios are for Republicans to maintain their razor-thin 51-49 margin, or for there to be a 50–50 split, with Vice President Mike Pence ready to break all ties.
A safer bet, though it’s one few political analysts are currently talking about, is that candidates from America’s perennial bronze medalist, the Libertarian Party, will receive more votes in multiple Senate races than the distance between Republicans and Democrats.
Seventeen Libertarians are running for Senate. They’re running in three of the five most “toss-up” states (Nevada, Indiana, and Missouri), and they’re running in three other races that at least one forecaster has rated a coinflip (Texas, Montana, and New Jersey). With the stakes of Senate control so high—Supreme Court confirmations! impeachment trials!—the opportunities to scream “SPOILER!” may soon abound.
And yet even strong Libertarian candidates in close races are routinely not being polled. Just this morning saw the release of two close polls between embattled New Jersey Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez and Republican challenger Bob Hugin that did not include the Ron Paul–endorsed Libertarian, Murray Sabrin. In the only nonpartisan survey that all three candidates appeared in, Sabrin’s 3 percent cleared the distance between Menendez’s 45 and Hugin’s 43.
Because of the paucity of polling data, as well as the usual third-party fade on election day, plus some wildly divergent partisan numbers in states like Gary Johnson’s New Mexico (where a recent campaign-affiliated poll looked considerably more promising than the last straight survey), the following list should not be mistaken for anything like a prediction. Consider it rather a Polaroid-quality snapshot of the potential for Libertarians to be yelled at come November 7.
A note about the numbers below: Where given the opportunity, I choose “likely voters” over “registered voters,” and with the noted exceptions of Montana and Nebraska, I exclude from consideration surveys paid for by campaigns or political parties.
With that said, here are the 17 Libertarian candidacies for U.S. Senate, ranked in order of how much they clear (or get close to) the polling point spread between Democrats and Republicans.