Libertarian Party (L.P.) state House candidate Bethany Baldes of Wyoming came just 53 votes away from winning a seat in 2018, in a race with fewer than 3,300 total votes cast. She was so close she’d been reported as the actual winner, over longtime Republican incumbent David Miller (then the House majority leader), before absentee ballots came in.
That’s one reason why Apollo Pazell, an L.P. political operative working the Wyoming races, says in a phone interview today that they began their ground operation in Wyoming this year well before absentee ballots were first cast.
Pazell sees the strong possibility of an actual victory for both Baldes and another state House candidate, Marshall Burt, based on surveying done by their door-knockers who are interacting with voters daily, including hitting all relevant houses at least four times. (Their door-knockers are masked and frequently tested, though Pazell says citizens often tell the canvassers to “take off the stupid mask.”)
Burt is facing one Democratic challenger, Stan Blake, in House District 39. Blake has held the office since 2007 and generally runs unopposed.
The L.P. has pursued a more active than usual set of tactics in Wyoming, following a long-term Pazell strategy of targeting elections with a small number of total voters needed to win and only one major-party rival. The state does present unique ground game problems, though: One of the districts the L.P. is vying to win with candidate Lela Konecny has roughly 3,000 voters spread out over a region “the size of Massachusetts,” he says.
“We have six canvassers on the ground traveling the state, and a half-dozen to dozen phone banking volunteers all years long,” notes Pazell.
Outside organizations, including Wyoming Gun Owners, have been helping promote Baldes as well, attacking her Republican opponent Ember Oakley for Oakley’s concern over immunity provisions for citizens under the state’s “stand your ground” law that dissatisfied the hardcore gun rights group.
Pazell today talked up his team’s efforts for four L.P. candidates running for the Wyoming House against only one other major-party opponent, which increases their chances of big results or even a win. The fourth is Shawn Johnson in District 38, running against Republican incumbent Tom Walters, who won his last election with only 1,017 total votes. Johnson is also the state L.P.’s chair.
Local press has noticed the Libertarian action as well. The Casper Star-Tribune wondered last week, “Could Libertarians shake up Wyoming elections this year?”
The paper thinks they might:
Johnson said the national party has been taking an unprecedented step to provide resources to the party this year and potentially help establish a third-party presence here.
This year might present the perfect opportunity for that to happen. As Democrats work to capture as many moderates as possible from the state’s Republican supermajority, Libertarians seek to tap into the state’s already massive wellspring of conservative voters who are potentially fed up with the current disarray of the Wyoming GOP, which has been plagued by infighting and anemic fundraising efforts over the past year.
The Libertarian Party has also sought to avoid debates over hot-button social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage that have long been a lightning rod within the state GOP and exacerbated tensions among the party’s ranks.
Baldes has received some endorsements from local Republicans over her opponent. Baldes told the Star-Tribune that “The two parties that are in place right now have been pushing the idea of taxes down our throat to the point where constituents have this idea that there’s no way forward without raising taxes….Having Libertarians in office will allow us to keep Republicans honest. They no longer can hide behind a name and talk about non-conservative ideas.”
The L.P. candidates are pushing economic issues mostly, Pazell says. “Wyoming is in a very drastic economic situation,” he says, between COVID-19 and a collapse in the state’s mineral industry. Other politicians, he says, are quick to call on more corporate, sales, and income taxes as a solution, which the Libertarians are not. “We have a detailed plan involving improving [the state’s] investment portfolios and cutting costs in a responsible way.”