Exclusive — Oregon Libertarians Can Learn a Lot from Larry Sharpe's Gubernatorial Run

The November 2018 election in Oregon has an interesting twist — 16 State Legislature seats have incumbents with the Democratic, Independent, and Republican nominations. Most of them are Democrats, but some are Republican. Out of these 16 seats, there are six House seats, and one Senate seat, with Libertarian candidates. Assuming the Green Party doesn’t have candidates in most of these districts, these Libertarians will get a taste of what the two-party system is like.

After seeing video after video and several headlines about Larry Sharpe, the Libertarian Gubernatorial candidate in New York, I decided to reach out to him and ask if he had some details from his campaign or a little message he’d like to include in this article. He graciously offered to do a phone interview. I was excited to take him up on his offer.


How Many Are Paper Candidates?

One concern I have about these legislative seats is that we don’t know how many Libertarians, if any, are paper candidates. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, a paper candidate is a candidate whose sole purpose is to “provide an alternative” or to be “just another choice” on the ballot. The Libertarian National Committee perpetuates this issue by telling people to “determine what kind of candidate [they] wish to be,” ranging from  “Basic,” which virtually has no time commitment, to “All-Out,” which requires you to make your candidacy a full-time job. Early in our conversation, Sharpe — an obvious All-Out candidate — spoke about “Basic” paper candidates.

“That is a mistake. I’m not a fan of that at all.” Sharpe continued, “We should be running real candidates with real chances. They need to have impact.” A Libertarian candidate doesn’t need to win, but they need to give it a real effort. It would be great to win, but people need to know that we’re serious. If you’re not serious, you probably won’t be taken seriously and you likely won’t get many donations.

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“The Libertarian National Committee perpetuates this issue by telling people to ‘determine what kind of candidate [they] wish to be,’ ranging from  ‘Basic,’ which virtually has no time commitment, to ‘All-Out,’ which requires you to make your candidacy a full-time job.”

Larry told me about the sacrifices he’s made to run such his campaign. His sacrifices, however, are paying off. In January, he had received the second-highest campaign contribution total — that’s second after Andrew Cuomo. Sharpe explained, “I’m punishing myself doing this. Nobody will give you money if you don’t get out there and make this happen. This has to become the norm.” A Tweet featuring a video of Sharpe explaining the Gravis poll further proves that what he’s doing is working well.

I asked Sharpe if he had ever thought that he would not only outperform the Republican, but also find himself in this statistical tie mentioned in the video. Simply put, he replied, “I thought there was a good chance that I could come in second; I was 100 percent sure that I could come in second place. I’ve been running for about 10 months actively and five or six months ago, I realized this was a winnable race.” That’s a lot of confidence for someone who would be typically viewed as disadvantaged based on their third party affiliation.

Libertarians Are in a Great Position

Understanding how non-Democratic candidates might feel discouraged in a race where the Democrat has dominated for so long, I asked Sharpe whether he ever got such feelings. Quickly, he replied, “Never!” After seeing the energy and charisma the man has, I’m not sure why I was surprised by his answer.

Sharpe further explained, “People don’t like Andrew Cuomo; they only vote for Cuomo because they hate Republicans. I have a broken Republican Party and an unpopular Democrat.” The Republican Party in New York has become seemingly apathetic. Earlier, I mentioned that political types often view Libertarians as disadvantaged in an election. However, it seems to be that there are states where the Republican would be far more disadvantaged. My state is one of them.

Oregon is in a very similar place right now. The Democrat incumbent, Kate Brown, isn’t exactly popular among a lot of Democrats. I have personally been told by a handful of Democrats that they didn’t care who was running against her, they would automatically vote for “the other guy” instead. Knute Buehler’s win in the Oregon Republican Gubernatorial Primary created a lot of waves amongst the party. When Larry told me about his situation in New York, I immediately thought, “Oh my gosh! Oregon also has an unpopular Democrat and broken Republican Party, too!” A serious candidate that campaigns as hard as Sharpe has a good chance of making a big statement in an election.

Sharpe is Blazing the Trail for Serious Libertarian Campaigns

Larry has been trying to build up the party for the past couple years. “The party hasn’t done a good job of it,” he said. “A lot of liberty-minded people don’t come here for two reasons. 1. There’s no infrastructure. 2. They don’t believe they can win. Currently, that’s true. Those two things won’t be true when I’m finished.” This infrastructure he’s talking about is the organizational setup of a campaign. After this race, his campaign staff and volunteers will have the experience and training needed to help other Libertarians become as successful as he has so far.

Regarding the example he’s setting, Sharpe says, “I’m setting the bar now. And I’m setting the bar high on purpose because I want others to follow me. I’m showing people how to talk to the media by talking with the media. They can copy it! Take my videos and my team!” With a statistical tie against an incumbent in a state that is often described as “safe blue” or “safe Democrat,” it would be foolish to ignore this example. The Libertarian National Committee has a website with some tips and advice for those running for office, but Sharpe’s example is more than suggestions — he’s offering the entirety of his campaign and social media presence as an example for other serious Libertarian candidates.

When asked about what a Libertarian victory, or even coming in second, would mean in New York, he had one of the best responses I’ve ever heard to this question. “I’m not just here to win; my doing well will make the Republicans care more about being Republicans. The Democrats will do the same. [The Democrats] might even say, ‘Maybe we’ve gone too far.’ They’re supposed to care about civil liberties — they don’t.” His sobering words come as no surprise to many who have taken a step back and looked at what the two major parties have become.

Larry’s Advice for Oregon Libertarians

I asked Sharpe if he had any advice for the one State Senate and six State House Libertarian candidates. His response was short, sweet and to the point, “Campaign.” I chuckled, thinking that this was an obvious answer. He said, “I’m not joking! Get out there and campaign. If you campaign, they’ll know who you are.” He had a great point about candidates knowing what likely works in their districts. “You’ll see what works and what doesn’t. Some areas are good for knocking on doors, others are not.”

“I campaign regularly,” Sharpe stated. “I do at least 20 events per month.” He affirmed that “social media is huge,” giving him a great platform to engage with voters. When asked what the “ideal Libertarian voter” outside of the Libertarian Party looked like, he said without missing a beat, “The person who didn’t vote in the last election.” He explained that his events are full of people that didn’t vote in the last two election cycles.

“When they stop voting, they’ve given up. If you can get people to show up at the event, you can get people to vote for you. That’s what Trump and Bernie showed us. You can get them to vote if you can get them to come spend time with you rather than at home doing what they usually do.” Sharpe’s noticed that some people will attend multiple events, driving farther away from home just to hear him speak again — these people are definitely going to vote for him.

Larry Sharpe’s insights about what’s needed to be successful as a Libertarian isn’t just for his state. He’s setting a great example of how anyone with an unpopular incumbent, paired with the other side being more broken than they let you believe, can come in and have a real impact. It won’t be easy and it doesn’t come without a price. We must be willing to work for it, more than we’ve ever worked before. That’s how he’s doing it. We don’t know what November has in store for us, but we know that New York’s Gubernatorial race is one to keep an eye on.

Lastly, I asked Larry for an inspirational message for Oregon Libertarians. Profoundly, he said, “Go campaign.”

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