With the makeup of the Senate hanging in the balance, a handful of third-party or non-mainstream candidates could act as spoilers in Senate match-ups on Tuesday – potentially sending races into overtime or snatching away much-needed votes from Democratic and Republican candidates.
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From a pizza delivery man in North Carolina to an alligator wrestling Republican in Louisiana, here’s a look at five candidates who could make the difference in Senate races on Election Day.
1. SEAN HAUGH, Libertarian candidate in North Carolina Senate race
Haugh, 53, is against foreign intervention and supports legalizing marijuana, which has Republicans hoping he’ll steal votes from Hagan and help Tillis eke out a victory. Last month, a conservative group with ties to the Koch brothers started a quarter-million dollar digital video ad campaign urging young voters to support Haugh for “more weed, less war.”
Yet Haugh—who has laid out his entire platform in YouTube videos shot in his campaign manager’s basement—wants to reduce the national debt and size of the federal government, positions more in line with the traditional Libertarian candidates who usually peel votes away from Republicans.
In the latest NBC/Marist poll released last month, Hagan and Tillis were locked in a virtual dead heat, with Haugh grabbing 7 percent of likely voters. Historically, Libertarians have rarely received more than 3 percentage points in North Carolina--but there has never been a Senate race as close, expensive and negative as this matchup. With all the mudslinging in the background, more Tar Heel voters could pull for Haugh than expected.
– Benjamin Siegel
2. AMANDA SWAFFORD, Independent candidate in Georgia Senate raceIf Georgia’s Senate race enters a January runoff—and if control of the U.S. Senate is concurrently up for grabs until then--we’ll likely have Amanda Swafford to thank.
The Libertarian candidate is polling at 5 percent in the last reliable survey by a major pollster in this state—enough to keep both Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn below the 50 percent a candidate needs to win on Election Day.
For Swafford, that would be a victory.
“If the race goes into a runoff, it sends a very clear message to the remaining candidates that the voters in this election are looking for candidates that will support less government and more freedom,” Swafford told ABC News by phone earlier this month, reached as she prepped for the second of three debates, all of which will have featured her onstage Nunn and Perdue.
Unlike some third-partiers, Swafford is a former public officeholder, a fact she’s stressed in two debates thus far, as a former member of the Flowery Branch, Ga., City Council. Swafford has blasted the two political parties as exerting “control” over American voters—not the other way around.
"Have you really heard anything different tonight from these two parties?" she asked a rowdy and receptive crowd during the debate at Georgia’s state fair on Oct. 7.
Apparently, a significant number of Georgians haven’t.
– Chris Good
3. ROB MANESS, Republican candidate in Louisiana Senate race
Rob Maness isn’t expected to take Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu’s place in the Senate, but the retired Air Force colonel could force the Louisiana Senate race into overtime.
Louisiana has a non-partisan "jungle primary" electoral system, so all candidates run on one ballot on November 4. If no one candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote on November 4, the two candidates with the most votes advance to a runoff election on December 6. A recent CNN/ORC poll of likely voters had Landrieu and Republican candidate Rep. Bill Cassidy in a tight race at 43 and 40 percent, respectively. Maness lagged behind at 9 percent, but he has enough support that it could take away votes from Landrieu and Cassidy and push the race into a runoff.
Maness, 52, is a newcomer to politics, but he touts an endorsement from Sarah Palin and several Tea Party groups. He has advocated for a complete repeal of the Affordable Care Act and opposes a pathway to citizenship for those who have immigrated to the United States illegally.
In May, Maness released a colorful ad featuring himself wrestling with an alligator, saying that as a senator, he would “stand up to the career politicians – and the alligators.”
– Jordyn Phelps
4. LARRY PRESSLER, Independent candidate in South Dakota Senate race
The South Dakota senate race has been all over the map this year. Republicans considered it an easy seat for them to secure, but in early October, the inevitability of a GOP win came into question when a Survey USA poll showed the match-up much tighter than expected.
Some of that is due to Larry Pressler, a 72-year-old former three-term Republican senator who is now running as an independent against Republican candidate Gov. Mike Rounds and Democratic candidate Rick Weiland. Pressler’s run a bare bones campaign – funding half of his race with a bank loan, paying only one full time staffer, and having his wife drive him to campaign events across the state.
Though the race has started to tilt back towards the GOP’s favor, Pressler managed to pick up some steam in South Dakota, causing outside Republican and Democratic groups to pour money into the race.
Pressler has parked himself right in the middle and has been criticized by both sides with Republicans saying he's too liberal and Democrats saying he's too conservative.
“I'm like the biblical David, and I have at least two Goliaths coming after me," Pressler said in one debate. "I am armed with a slingshot of idealism."
– Katherine Faulders
DAVID PATTERSON, Libertarian candidate in Kentucky Senate race
David Patterson, a corporal in the Harrodsburg City Police Department, is also a Libertarian candidate for Senate in Kentucky.
The irony isn’t lost on him.
“It’s always brought up, ‘How can you be a libertarian and a police officer,’” Patterson, 43, told ABC News. “When I found the Libertarian philosophy and the non-aggression principle, I was well into my police career.”
Patterson, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, had voted for the longtime Republican senator in several elections, until he discovered the Libertarian Party in 2012.
“I’d like to see our foreign wars end,” Patterson said of his platform, which includes lowering the federal deficit and stopping the National Security Agency’s data collection.
Though he’s raised just $4,300 and has never polled higher than mid-single digits, Patterson could be a disruptive force in Kentucky, where the libertarian-influenced Sen. Rand Paul and Tea Partiers have publicly and privately clashed with the state’s GOP establishment.
Libertarian candidates are traditionally expected to take votes away from Republican candidates, but Patterson, who has received the endorsement of Tea Party group Take Back Kentucky, said both sides have accused him of being a plant to steal votes from their candidates.
“The paranoia runs deep,” Patterson said. “It won’t matter which one of them wins, Kentucky won’t be better off either way.”
- Benjamin Siegel