HAMILTON – U.S. Senate Libertarian candidate Dan Cox will tell you that it was never his intention to be a spoiler in one of the most closely watched races in the nation.
He disliked both of his opponents’ records equally.
But the nearly 30,000 votes Cox garnered in Tuesday’s general election were 10,000 more than the difference between Democratic incumbent Sen. Jon Tester and his Republican challenger, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg.
Montana Republican Party officials say those votes were the difference in the election and they are challenging some last-minute advertisements.
Cox’s candidacy was bolstered by a flurry of expensive television and print advertisements paid for by a hunters-and-anglers group sympathetic to Tester.
Cox, a Hamilton man who owns an Internet fishing equipment business, said the advertisements took him by surprise.
“I was totally unaware of any of that,” Cox said. “It did open my eyes to the fact that a lot of political advertisements were not authorized by any candidate. PACs, to some degree, are running the elections.”
“I liked the content of the ads,” Cox said. “I just had no idea of who funded the ads or who was behind it.”
Cox said Wednesday that he raised about $3,000 throughout the course of the race.
According to an Oct. 26 financial report, the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund spent $498,400 on television advertisements, $39,500 on web advertising and $146,400 in mailing costs for political ads against Rehberg.
In the final weeks of the race, there were at least five full-color, glossy mailers sent to voters that promoted Cox over Rehberg.
One had a disclaimer saying the hunters-and-anglers group paid for the mailing, as is required by law. Four of the fliers had no disclaimers, but all have the same Las Vegas mailing permit.
The Montana Republican Party filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission last week, saying the Montana Hunters and Anglers Leadership Fund, the Montana Conservation Voters and the League of Conservation Voters engaged in a strategy to siphon votes away from Rehberg and failed to use a disclaimer on its mailings.
The treasurer of the hunters-and-anglers organization, Joe Splinter, did not return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday.
Montana Republican Party chairman Will Deschamps said he was certain the advertisements made a difference in the late stages of the race.
“These Libertarian candidates run as spoilers,” Deschamps said. “They don’t care to win. They know they can’t win. ... Politics is a blood sport. You deal with what you get.”
From Cox’s point of the view, Tuesday’s election showed that people are growing tired of the two-party system that offer candidates who don’t abide by the U.S. Constitution.
The nearly 30,000 votes he garnered were more than three times the votes the last Libertarian Senate candidate had six years ago, he said. He’s been told the vote count is the highest since the 1930s for a third-party candidate for the state’s U.S. Senate seat.
“It looks to me like liberty is rising,” he said. “The Republicans can’t win without liberty voters. For some reason, they are working to throw the Constitution out of their own party and they think they can get away with it.”
“If Republicans want to get back to winning, they need to start running candidates who follow the Constitution,” Cox said.
The Libertarian platform supports issues that are attractive to both conservatives and liberals, he said.
“I think it’s hard to say that I was a spoiler for Republicans,” he said. “We receive a lot of support from people on the other side who don’t want to be in undeclared wars or like the idea of medical marijuana.”
“I think it’s hard to judge what percentage of my vote comes from whom,” Cox said.
David Merrick, chairman of the Ravalli County Libertarian Party, said Cox’s relative success in the election has helped spread the party’s message.
“We don’t look at entering a race to be spoiler,” Merrick said. “We look at it as an avenue to try to get our message out there. Elections are a good time to get that message out.”
It appears to be working.
“We’re already getting calls from people interested in the next election,” Merrick said. “We’ll take a little breather and then get ready to gear up. We’ll see who wants to put their neck under the guillotine this next time around.”
Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at 363-3300 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.