Sunday, June 16, 2024

Meet Chase Oliver, the youthful Libertarian presidential nominee

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Anthony Zurcher,Rachel Looker

Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images Chase Oliver Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some voters in November may see a less familiar option on their presidential ballot when in the polling booth this November: Chase Oliver.

Mr Oliver is this year’s presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party, a political party that typically wins around one per cent of the national vote and is known for promoting civil liberties and small government.

At 38 (just three years above the constitutional threshold to be a presidential candidate), Mr Oliver is by far the youngest contender in this year’s field.

He is also the only openly gay candidate, which he says he hopes serves as an example to aspiring LGBT politicians.

The former Georgia congressional candidate finds himself as a third-party presidential nominee in an election where voters have a sense of déjà vu. Former President Donald Trump has won the Republican party nomination and President Joe Biden is fighting for his second term as the incumbent Democrat, setting the stage for a re-match between the two candidates.

On Saturday, Trump spoke to the Libertarian Party national convention in Washington DC and asked for their support. He was roundly booed.

This was no surprise to Mr Oliver, who ultimately won the party’s presidential nomination after seven rounds of balloting the following day.

“He came here to try to court our voters,” Mr Oliver told BBC’s Americast podcast on Thursday. “He got the exact Libertarian reception someone like him deserves.”

 Jim WATSON / AFP Former US President Donald Trump on stage at the Libertarian National Convention Jim WATSON / AFP

Mr Oliver said Trump represents “the warfare state around the world” and criticised his expansion of the US national debt and the Covid lockdowns during his four-year term in office.

In the end, the Libertarian convention chair ruled that Trump, as the presumptive Republican nominee, was ineligible to be the Libertarian nominee.

The Republican former president wasn’t the only outsider to address the convention. Robert F Kennedy, who is currently organising an independent bid for president, also spoke – and his reception was significantly warmer.

When it was time for balloting, however, he only received support from only about 2% of the delegates and was eliminated in the first round.

In polls of the American public, however, Mr Kennedy has been doing significantly better than any third-party or independent candidate in decades, polling around 15% at his highest. That’s well above the 3% that was the high-water mark for Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in 2016 election results.

Mr Oliver says he understands why Mr Kennedy, the nephew of US President John F Kennedy, would do well – but he told Americast that voters looking for an outsider are better served with his party, which is trying to build a lasting alternative to the two-party system.

Mr Kennedy, he warns, is a “one-and-done” option who won’t be around after this election.

“Do you want to cry out with a protest vote?” he asked. “Or do you want to build something that can last and build up a foundation so that we can tear down the abuses of the state together?”

Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks on state at the Libertarian National ConventionKevin Dietsch/Getty Images

Dan John, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has been a Libertarian since the 2000s and recently became a delegate for the Libertarian party ahead of this year’s national convention.

Mr John said he thinks a Libertarian candidate could have more sway in this year’s election cycle than in years prior.

“We’ve had one term of each [Biden and Trump] and you’ve got people who hate their lives under both,” the 39-year-old said. “We’ve got the protest vote for that reason.”

But if Mr Kennedy cuts too deeply into the Libertarian vote share in November, the party could drop below the mark many states set to receive an automatic line in upcoming presidential elections. Such a result could deal a devastating blow to the Libertarian hopes of further broadening the party’s support.

Alana Leguia, 32, attended the Libertarian convention and said she plans to vote for Oliver in November.

“I think a Libertarian candidate… is going to be direct competition for Kennedy and I think people are ready for something new, something outside of the duopoly. They’re done with Trump and Biden,” said the resident of Sussex County, New Jersey.

Central to the Libertarian pitch is an aggressive effort to limit the scope of government by paring back spending and regulation and expanding personal freedoms. In practice, this includes decriminalising most drugs and prostitution, expanding the right to own firearms, drastically curtailing US military spending and allowing open immigration.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images  Members of the Libertarian Party stand in chairs at the Libertarian National ConventionChip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Some of the party positions have limited public support and cut against the mainstream political debate at the moment.

“We have to educate the public that immigration is not a scary thing,” Mr Oliver said. “It’s actually a natural thing that we’ve seen for hundreds of years on the continent of North America and something that I would like to continue seeing.”

He adds that one of his goals for the upcoming campaign is to expand the appeal of his party to younger voters, who have expressed a particular dissatisfaction with the political status quo in recent years.

“They’re crying out for something better than Republicans or Democrats, and we need to give that to them,” he said. “We need to provide solutions for their cause and for the problems that they’re facing.”

Erin Wood, 40, has been a Libertarian for years and is unconvinced that either Mr Kennedy or Trump will win over her party.

“We’re a party of stubbornness,” she said.

The Montgomery County, Maryland, resident, said she plans to vote for her party’s nominee in November.

“I don’t have a plan B at the moment,” she said.

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