Aug. 31, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Third-Party Options Could Save Democrats

From Florida to California, third-party candidates pulling a point or two of the vote on Election Day might make the difference between winning and losing.

“Forty-seven is the new 50,” a Democratic official closely watching House races told Roll Call.

There are third-party House candidates in at least a dozen districts who will draw votes from Republicans and Democrats. In a regular election cycle, that might prove irksome, but this year it could be a blessing for embattled incumbents hoping to hold on to their seats during a rough night.

Perhaps most prominent on tomorrow’s map is Nevada, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) remains locked in a neck-and-neck battle with tea party favorite Sharron Angle (R). Reid hasn’t been able to crack 50 percent in the Tossup-rated race, but if “none of these candidates” and a Nevada Tea Party candidate attract enough attention today, he won’t need to.

A series of close House contests could fall the same way, with either tea party or libertarian Independent candidates poised to play spoiler and help Democrats. Democrats who might be boosted in such races include Rep. Tom Perriello in Virginia’s 5th district, Rep. Bill Owens in New York’s 23rd district and Rep. Baron Hill in Indiana’s 9th district — all rated as Tossup races.

Operatives for both Republicans and Democrats think that’s the case in Florida’s 12th district. Lori Edwards (D) and Dennis Ross (R) are running for the seat Rep. Adam Putnam is vacating to seek statewide office. But Polk County Commissioner Randy Wilkinson, a former Republican, is running as a third-party candidate under the official Florida Tea Party label.

This race is rated Leans Republican, but election watchers say it will be tight. A GOP source said this is one district the party thinks could be a “surprise” and slip away.

In Virginia’s 5th district, state Sen. Robert Hurt (R) is favored to unseat Perriello. But Democrats still hold out hope thanks in part to the third-party candidacy of Jeffrey Clark.

Hurt frustrated some tea party activists because he backed a $1.4 billion tax increase under then-Gov. Mark Warner (D) in 2004, and he was the Washington establishment’s top choice to win in a competitive primary this summer. Hurt has refused to debate Clark, who has accused Hurt’s operatives of dirty tricks to force him off the ballot. Clark has barely registered in polls, however.

Both Democrats and Republicans think the conservative American Constitution Party could boost Democrats’ chances in Colorado, where the Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes has tanked and former Rep. Tom Tancredo, who is running as the Constitution Party nominee, is in second place. Tancredo’s success could boost turnout and votes for fellow third-party candidate Doug Aden in the 4th district, where Rep. Betsy Markey (D) appears set to lose her seat to Cory Gardner (R).

Hill is in a close race with Todd Young (R), and Indiana Democrats have sent mailers boosting Libertarian candidate Greg Knott in hopes of splitting the Republican vote.

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