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Greenberg prefers to test third-party candidates in her polling, not so much in search of the numbers such a candidate will pull, but to look for opportunities to peel off GOP votes or search for dangers for Democrats. Political strategists of both parties generally agree that third-party candidates usually perform better in polling than at the ballot box.
Third-party candidates have cropped up in a handful of targeted Senate races this cycle. In Indiana and Missouri, the Republican candidates have made controversial statements about rape that many find objectionable. The Libertarian candidates in these races offer an outlet for disgruntled conservatives to park votes without having to vote Democratic.
A group with ties to Tester recently aired television advertisements that are critical of Rehberg from a Libertarian bent and include the words: “Vote Cox.”
In the Arizona Senate race, Rep. Jeff Flake (R) was able to fend off a well-funded GOP primary rival thanks to his reputation as one of the most ideologically libertarian House Republicans. But many Arizona operatives are predicting a race down to the wire against former Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D). Libertarian Marc Victor could peel off enough votes to create problems for Flake because his foreign policy positions are less libertarian than his fiscal positions.
At least one Flake source brushed off concerns about Victor, but Carmona sources are watching him closely.
“In a race where there’s high negatives and lots and lots of negative ads, people who get turned off might be looking for a place to put their vote,” the Carmona source said.
Beyond the presidential and Senate fronts, ask almost any political operative about third-party House candidates and most are worried about at least one race where they fear a spoiler effect. Here are some of the races that have raised Republican and Democratic eyebrows:
Arizona’s 9th — Open Seat
Former state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D) versus former Paradise Valley Mayor Vernon Parker (R)
Third-party candidate: Powell Gammill (Libertarian)
Rep. Steve King (R) versus former Iowa first lady Christie Vilsack (D)
Third-party candidate: frequent candidate Martin James Monroe (Independent)
Louisiana’s 3rd — Member vs. Member
Rep. Charles Boustany (R) versus Rep. Jeff Landry (R)
Third-party candidate: There are multiple candidates on the ballot and if no candidate reaches 50 percent, there will be a runoff.
Rep. Dan Benishek (R) versus former state Rep. Gary McDowell (D)
Third-party candidates: attorney Emily Salvette (Libertarian) and Ellis Boal (Green Party)
Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R) versus state Rep. Pete Gallego (D)
Third-party candidates: Jeffrey Blunt (Libertarian), Ed Scharf (Green Party) and Craig Stephens (Independent)