Austin Petersen, the distant runner-up for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination last year, announced on July 4 that he was leaving the party and seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Missouri.
The initial skepticism expressed by some libertarians seems to have been justified. Petersen’s campaign for U.S. Senate has struggled to get off the ground due to a variety of factors. Thus far, it does not yet represent a threat to either of the major Republican candidates.
Establishment and insurgent Republican together poll 85 percent
The 2018 race has quickly become a more standard lineup between two major candidates. Though not yet announced, establishment and national party support has quickly lined up behind the state’s young attorney general, Josh Hawley.
Hawley’s main competitor, the anti-establishment underdog, is state representative Paul Curtman, a self-proclaimed liberty Republican who worked with Ron Paul’s presidential campaigns.
While there are no published polls yet, sources say that internal polling shows that Hawley and Curtman between them have the support of more than 85 percent of Missouri Republicans. Far behind them, Austin Petersen is near the bottom of that list.
Internal campaign problems for Austin Petersen
While struggling to gain media attention, Petersen’s campaign has been rocked by internal dissension and staff walkouts. Much of that relates to the failure of fundraising, although personality conflicts have also been mentioned.
Perhaps most telling, Austin Petersen himself told the Springfield News-Leader that “some party bigwigs in Missouri and Washington have ignored his requests for meetings.”
Social media statements about successful fundraising are not yet reflected in FEC filings. Under federal law, candidates are required to file as soon as they exceed $5,000 in campaign contributions. Petersen’s campaign still shows zero dollars reported, possibly a sign that the threshold has not yet been met.
Petersen is still courting controversy
Austin Petersen himself is a controversial figure in Libertarian Party circles. His unsuccessful presidential campaign was dominated by online spats pitting Petersen against others who disagreed with him. Many of these were nasty attacks, and led to resentment within the party.
Additionally, Austin Petersen’s campaign manager in both the presidential and Senate races was Jeffrey Carson, who supported independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, a social conservative, after Petersen’s loss in the Libertarian primary.
Working for McMullin over Libertarian nominee Gov. Gary Johnson was seen by Johnson supporters as sour grapes. It led many to question Austin Petersen’s commitment to the principles of the liberty movement.
The announcement that he would seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat initially led one anti-Petersen candidate to consider entering the race in Missouri.
Alicia Dearn, who unsuccessfully sought the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nomination in 2016, tried to galvanize libertarians to support her candidacy against Austin Petersen. Although, her campaign filing papers were never filed and she later announced that she would not be running due to health reasons.
A PAC established by Charles Peralo passed out flyers opposing Austin Petersen’s Senate campaign at a Young Americans for Liberty convention this summer in Washington. In an interview with The Jack News, Peralo slammed Petersen as an under-achieving “cyberbully.”
Disavowing the Libertarian Party will be hard for Petersen
Early after Austin Petersen’s announcement, Bob Barr, the former Republican congressman and 2008 Libertarian presidential nominee, suggested that he would back Petersen.
If so, Barr and Petersen have something else in common. Barr attempted to get back into Congress in 2014 by running as a Republican. He was defeated in a Georgia primary, in spite of going to great lengths to disavow his former Libertarian affiliation.
Petersen seems to be having the same difficulty moving past his membership, and past candidacy, with the Libertarian Party.
When asked to comment for this article, Ron Nielson, executive editor of The Jack News and the campaign manager for both of Gary Johnson’s presidential bids, in 2012 and 2016, said: “It is somewhat unfair to find fault or attack Austin for trying to run a liberty-focused campaign. While the liberty movement is growing, it is still difficult to gain momentum as a liberty or Libertarian candidate. ”
Petersen’s campaign declined the opportunity to comment for this article.
(Photo of Austin Petersen in 2012 by Gage Skidmore used with permission.)