Third-party candidates seek to unseat incumbents

Third-party candidates vie for seats in the Minnesota State Legislature.

by Ryan Faircloth

As the election nears, some third-party candidates believe political upheaval could benefit their races, but experts looking back at past fringe movements aren’t convinced.

Voters stuck in their ways, a weak political infrastructure and the dominant two-party system all point to a difficult campaign road for third parties, according to experts and the candidates themselves.

“It’s gotten to the point where, if you’re not a Republican or a Democrat, there’s no chance,” said Martin Super, the Legal Marijuana Now candidate running for state senator in district 60, which covers the University of Minnesota, Northeast Minneapolis and Cedar-Riverside.

Super said he’s not optimistic about his chance to unseat incumbent Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis.

“I expect to lose, being a third-party candidate,” he said. “But we want to get our message out.”

Though third parties don’t often win elections, they can influence party platforms and even serve as spoilers to election races, said Larry Jacobs, director of the University’s Center for the Study of Politics and Governance.

He said third-party candidates also tend to be more welcome in Minnesota than other states because of their two-party frustrations.

“The history in America is the dominance of the two-party system, with very occasional appearances by third parties, which usually fade,” Jacobs said.

And these frustrations are something Gabe Barnett — an independent candidate for House district 60A — hopes will help him win in November.

“People seem really ready to break away from the status quo,” he said.

A Northeast Minneapolis resident, Barnett said he’s canvassed, door-knocked and distributed yard signs as part of his campaign.

Still, vying for the spot in a minor political party has been difficult.

“Without the big party money, I still have to live my day-to-day [life] while scrambling to engage with as much of the community as possible,” Barnett said.

Aside from the help of a few friends and neighbors, he said, he’s essentially campaigning by himself.

He said he briefly considered challenging incumbent Rep. Diane Loeffler, DFL-Minneapolis, in the party’s primary, but opted to run as an independent.

“The fact that you have this power of the party label is almost insurmountable,” Jacobs said. “Third parties are going to be a feeble vehicle for expressing [voter frustration.]”

He said voter habits are a major barrier for third parties, adding that most people have always voted for the two predominant parties.

Super said he has felt the pressures that comes with being a minor party candidate, especially so considering his party affiliation.

Still, Barnett said he’s been well-received by people who hear he’s a third-party candidate, adding that Northeast Minneapolis holds many independent values.

“Almost everyone I engage with is excited at the prospect of a non-mainstream candidate,” he said.

But unless voters change their attitudes on the way they approach voting, Jacobs said it’ll be impossible for third-party candidates to beat those affiliated with the two-party system.

“You need to have a change in the mindset and the draw of a party label; you need to have changes in the rules of the game,” he said.