It’s the election cycle of third-party candidates. In the presidential race, there is increasing support for Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Even in the District 1 House race in New Hampshire, third-party candidates could make it an interesting election, causing unpredictably for the Democrats and Republicans.
Running for the House seat is Republican incumbent Frank Guinta, former Democratic Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter, Independents Shawn O’Connor and Brendan Kelly and Libertarian candidate Rob Lombardo.
It’s going to be a tight race between Guinta and Shea-Porter, who are facing each other for the fourth time in six years. The seat has changed hands between the two candidates, every two years since the 2010 election. But with third-party candidates potentially pulling votes away from them, it’s unclear who will win the seat.
“In reality, they [third-party candidates] are not going to win, but it does enter a level of unpredictability in the race,” said Dean Spiliotes, civics scholar at Southern New Hampshire University. “Two or 3 or 4 percentage points of the vote could really tip the balance.”
That’s something Guinta and Shea-Porter know very well. Kelly was a third-party candidate in 2012 as a Libertarian and garnered 4.2 percent of the vote. Shea-Porter defeated Guinta by 3.8 percent of the three-way vote and in polls after the race, it showed that he took some of the Republican vote away from Guinta.
Kelly could siphon the Republican vote again or maybe take some Democrats since he’s now running as an Independent. But O’Connor is expected to take a lot of the votes too.
O’Connor announced his candidacy in 2015, but he announced it as a Democrat. When Shea-Porter made it clear that she was going to run, he changed party affiliations, charging that New Hampshire Democratic Party officials were favoring her instead of being neutral. He also claimed that Shea-Porter was spreading lies and false rumors about him, which the Democrat denies.
But the NHDP challenged his eligibility to be on the ballot, claiming he did not file the required 1,500 nomination papers with local election officials. They argued that 26 nomination papers he filed were signed by individuals who also signed papers for other candidates — which is against state law.
The Ballot Law Commission in a first hearing found that the nomination paper form did not provide adequate notice of the law’s restriction and allowed O’Connor to remain on the ballot. The NHDP appealed, citing new evidence, but the Commission last week came to the same conclusion and he will be on the ballot.
“I present the first viable alternative to this forced choice of two unpopular candidates and I think they [NHDP] thought in a presidential year that if I wasn’t there, they thought they had the upper-hand,” O’Connor said in an interview with NH Journal. “But now this is truly a three-way horserace.”
The hacker or hackers known as Guccifer 2.0 leaked several memos from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which included an inside-look at the Democratic strategy in New Hampshire and in the District 1 House in March.
While the documents do not explicitly talk about a specific candidate seeking the Democratic nomination, they do talk about how Shea-Porter had a higher favorability rating than O’Connor.
William Tucker reported in August on his NH political blog that he also obtained documents from Guccifer 2.0, which showed House Democrats aggressively recruiting Executive Councilor Chris Pappas to run for the District 1 seat and actively discouraging Shea-Porter from running.
Regardless of how the previous events transpired, O’Connor said he is running “an in-it-to-win-it campaign” and not a “spoiler” one, simply to take votes from Shea-Porter.
Spiliotes is less convinced that O’Connor could win, but he certainly could make a difference in the election.
“There is sort of this bad blood with the whole thing that happened with the Democratic Party and running as an independent. He could make the case that he is sort of more progressive or moderate and then that can certainly hurt her,” Spiliotes said.
While Guinta faces some opposition from Kelly, O’Connor and Lombardo could also take votes from him. Guinta is coming back from a campaign finance scandal where the Federal Election Commission said he broke the law by accepting $355,000 from his family fund, which is over the allowed contribution limit. Guinta claims he has an equitable interest in the fund, but he was forced to return it.
The District has a slight Republican advantage since there are more registered Republicans there, but the seat has changed party hands often, leaving this election uncertain.
“We see the District has a right advantage, but Democrats have benefitted from turnout in presidential elections years,” Spiliotes said. “Guinta won during midterm years [2010 and 2014], so Shea-Porter could have a cushion depending on Democratic turnout.”
A poll released last week for the National Republican Congressional Committee, conducted by Republican group North Star Opinion Research, had Guinta ahead of Shea-Porter.
The poll showed Guinta at 41 percent, Shea-Porter at 38 percent, 8 percent for O’Connor and 4 percent for Kelly.
The poll sampling was reported to be 36 percent Republican and 31 percent Democratic, which is approximately the registration breakdown of the district.
Another poll released Friday by Democratic group Normington, Petts and Associates for the House Majority PAC showed Shea-Porter ahead.
She led Guinta 44 percent to 34 percent with O’Connor, Kelly and Lombardo trailing at 4 percent each.
The voter breakdown was 26 percent Democrat and 27 percent Republican, according to the poll.
Guinta released a statement Monday challenging Shea-Porter to allow having all candidates listed on the ballot to appear with them in the many debates scheduled for the next month.
“Will Carol Shea-Porter, after refusing to face Shawn O’Connor in primary debates, join me in demanding that this fall’s debates include all candidates on the ballot?,” Guinta said. “Granite Staters deserve a voice. They deserve a choice, but the Democrat Party has let them down, employing the same tactics in New Hampshire the party in Washington used to help Hillary Clinton escape Sanders.”
Shea-Porter did not respond to Guinta’s statement on Monday.
Depending on what happens in the next month before the November election, support for third-party candidates could increase and cause a shake-up in the District 1 race.
“It is certainly possible that people are looking to make another choice as a protest vote,” Spiliotes said. “There is a lot of disillusionment this cycle and people who are upset with the current parties might turn to them.”