Austin Petersen, the distant runner-up to Gov. Gary Johnson for the 2016 Libertarian presidential nomination, has announced he is running in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Missouri.
The move was met with a fair degree of mockery from Libertarians, including party chair Nicholas Sarwark. During his campaign for the Libertarian nomination, Petersen did not ingratiate himself to many Libertarians through antics like publishing Sarwark’s personal cell phone number, encouraging harassment of his perceived opponents, as well as making absurd claims that the party and the Johnson campaign were conspiring to buy all the available hotel rooms in Orlando for the convention.
While reactions online from Libertarians were swift and voluminous, including mostly respectful coverage in Reason magazine, the local political media in Missouri has taken little notice. Aside from Petersen’s announcement op-ed – complete with odd swipes at Gov. Bill Weld – in the Kansas City Star, the announcement has not yet generated local coverage. Attention is still mostly focused on the state’s attorney general, Josh Hawley, as a likely Republican nominee. A couple of members of Missouri’s U.S. House delegation are also considering possible runs. Whether Peteresen’s candidacy will meet the threshold to be featured in the debates with top-tier candidates remains to be seen.
The more conservative “Tea Party” tone taken by Petersen’s GOP campaign, including in his fundraising emails, might trace itself in part to the involvement of Hines Digital. This firm, which markets itself “the world’s top digital fundraising & website design agency for conservatives” previously ran digital operations for the Evan McMullin campaign, among others. One difference, however: Petersen has fully embraced Donald Trump, tweeting at him on July 4 his desire to “help Make America Great Again.” It’s an odd change in tone for somebody who just last year was asking for the chance to run against Trump as a Libertarian.
Petersen’s announcement made a splash among movement libertarians who recognize his name; but it remains to see if that will translate into substantial support in Missouri Republican circles. Last year, Missouri was one of a handful of states that held a Libertarian presidential primary, and despite the home-field advantage Petersen placed far behind “Uncommitted,” a kind of none-of-the-above option.