If you're a third-party gubernatorial candidate
who is so unidentifiable that few could pick
you out of a lineup and who has — let's be real — precisely zero chance in hell of winning in November, this is what success looks like: 9 percent in a recent Quinnipiac poll, with voters clearly souring on Charlie Crist and Rick Scott. That's a big number for Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian Party contender for Florida governor, a guy running his campaign on his cell phone, a social media shoestring, and a presence closer to Vince McMahon than Ron Paul.
Wyllie knows the corporate media gives third-party candidates no play, so he's had to wedge his way into the discussion with audacious media stunts. Getting arrested in May for driving without a driver's license, a full three years after giving up the ID in protest of the Real ID Act, exemplified both legitimate theater and political protest. He also made it into the news recently when he threatened to get arrested if he wasn't included in the candidate forum at the 2014 Florida Press Association/Florida Society of News Editors Convention. (They ultimately let him into the conference, though not the forum itself.)
Yet, despite such chutzpah, Wyllie faces an existential problem: the Libertarian brand itself.
Libertarians don't reach out to minorities. They never talk about the enforcement burden of the police state borne by minorities and the politically disempowered — those most at risk from an increasingly Orwellian society. Some say it's racist; others, an oversight.
Does Wyllie represent a next-level move for the LP? With the election months away, and Wyllie positioned to play spoiler, I phoned him as he drove to a campaign event in DeLand.
The poll data I'd seen, I told him, suggested he was taking more support away from Crist than Scott. Wyllie disagreed with that assessment, as well as the idea that his candidacy somehow could be a stalking horse for the Scott campaign. "My numbers pull equally from Democrats, Republicans and independents," he told me, adding that he's in the "mid-teens" with independents, according to his internal polling.
Could his numbers be even better? I asked Wyllie if he was successfully cultivating African-American support, in the vein of Rand Paul's recent initiatives.
This campaign has been a "tough sell to the minority community," Wyllie conceded. The plan nonetheless is to "reach across the political and socioeconomic spectrum, to reach every group, selling the concept of liberty." That said, "certain groups seem more suspicious" of "liberty" than others.
Make of that what you will. It wasn't the answer for which I hoped.
A disquisition on the impacts of the drug war (and the private prison industry, which energetically supports the Scott campaign, and which supported Crist before he switched parties) on the African-American community would be a useful and much-needed discussion of "liberty" and the cumulative effects of its forfeiture. That's not on the LP candidate's radar right now — another missed opportunity from a party that's made missed opportunities its calling card.
Wyllie wants to legalize marijuana, a position that he now shares with The New York Times editorial board. He's not thrilled by the Charlotte's Web legislation, which he describes as "very restrictive and controlled." Regarding Amendment 2, Wyllie believes it "very important to pass," but its utility will be blunted without being implemented by "elected officials who understand freedom."
"Republicans and Democrats are not interested in solving problems," Wyllie contends. While he insists that his campaign has a "path to victory," he would accept as a secondary goal "educating people that big government is not the solution."
We've heard this before.
Will Wyllie's 9 percent hold? Not likely. In a close race, the third-party poll numbers usually redistribute when votes are cast. To change that dynamic, the Libertarians would need to build a coalition beyond the single young white dudes who make up their base. This candidate doesn't seem to know how to do that.
But suppose he — or a candidate with similar views on civil liberties — were able to figure that out? We very well might see viable Libertarian runs in certain races. I've been waiting to see that for two decades, though. It doesn't seem to be a Libertarian Party priority.