“I won't say I'm content with the results. I was expecting to win. But I'm glad we were heard,” said Jeffrey, whose candidates were uniformly trounced Tuesday despite competing for nearly every city office, the first time that's ever happened. But the eight Libertarians on Tuesday's ballot were not merely heard. Their unprecedented presence and performance sent shock waves through Republican headquarters, even though none of them came close to winning.
“If not for the Libertarians, John (Crawford) and I would still be on council,” said 2nd District Republican Don Schmidt, a 36-year veteran who came up a scant 13 votes short in his race against Democrat Karen Goldner. Crawford, R-at large, best known for his forceful and unapologetic support of the city's no-smoking ordinance, finished a close fourth in a contest having room for only three. Crawford echoed Schmidt's conclusion.
Are they right? Could be. If Jeffrey is right when she said Libertarians draw two votes from Republicans for each vote they get from Democrats, the 580 votes 2nd District Libertarian Jonathan Bartels earned would have been more than enough to earn Schmidt another term.
Likewise, the more than 11,600 votes going to the three at-large Libertarians might have given Crawford the edge over incumbent Democrat John Shoaff, who won along with Republicans Marty Bender and Liz Brown.
Crawford lost to Brown by about 100 votes and to Shoaff by less than 2,000, although two-to-one support for Crawford among Libertarians cannot be assumed because most of them vehemently oppose the smoking ban as an infringement of business owners' property rights.
But if Jeffrey's crestfallen look was genuine - and it was - she wants to do far more than play the spoiler. She wants Allen County's Libertarian Party to offer legitimate alternatives to big government-loving Democrats and to Republicans whose deeds seldom match their small-government sound bites.
“My husband is with the Army in Iraq fighting for our freedom, so I really have no choice but to do the same,” the mother of four said. “Being a Libertarian means getting government out of the way and letting people live their lives. Our goal is to have candidates for all local races. If you don't build at the grass-roots level, all you have is a patchy lawn.”
Frankly, that image seems to fit right now. Even though it competed for all but mayor, clerk and council's 4th District, the party's candidates were - to be diplomatic - of uneven quality and, according to Jeffrey's own estimate, raised less than $10,000 in total campaign contributions.
Nevertheless, Jeffrey has good reason to believe her party's best days may be ahead of it.
“Voters need real choices, but the Republican and Democratic parties support the status quo, with little difference between them,” the self-described recovering Republican said. “The discontent with government has just built up over several issues, whether it was smoking, taxes, or Harrison Square and the use of eminent domain.”
But to build a political machine - and that's just what Jeffrey intends to do - it will take more than a handful of brave candidates willing to endure certain defeat for the sake of principle. It will require credible candidates and lots of money, neither of which are yet in abundance.
Ironically, that dream may have helped defeat Schmidt, the council candidate closest to Jeffrey's Libertarian ideal. But if the Republican Party does not heal the obvious and lingering resentments created by the contentious mayor's race, bigger names and fatter checkbooks may start looking for an alternative. That could be good for Jeffrey - and bad for her GOP counterpart, Steve Shine.
“(Libertarians) were emboldened” by the election, said Shine, who thinks his party will have to resist their appeal by re-embracing its core principles: limited government, low taxes and economic development.
“That would be good for (Republicans),” Shine said. “It would act as a check on us, if you will.”
It's never good when one party dominates politics - as the local GOP has done at times. But neither is it good when two parties seem to offer voters a single choice. The Libertarian Party is still the scrawny and sometimes awkward newcomer, but Democrats and especially Republicans ignore its potential at their own peril.
Libertarian Candidates Impact Election Results
By: Nicole Pence, from the Networks of Indiana News Center
Playing the role of political spoiler. Allen County's Libertarian Party made history for itself this year, posting candidates in nearly every Fort Wayne municipal race. Though none of them won, their presence clearly impacted some of the key races. As Nicole Pence reports.
Libertarian Jonathan Bartels ran in the second district city council race and lost. He only got six percent of the vote, but, since election night, he's been called the 900-pound gorilla.
Jonathan Bartels(L), Lost 2nd District Race: (Do you think if you weren't in this race in the second district Don Schmidt would be the declared winner right now?) Absolutely." That race is still being contested. Schmidt, the 36-year council veteran, finished 13 votes behind democrat Karen Goldner. Schmidt argues he'll push for a recount. Bartels says since the votes were tallied, democrats have been thanking him. Jonathan Bartels(L), Lost 2nd District Race: "As close as the race was if my votes had not have been there they would have more than likely gone to Don Schmidt.”
Andy Downs with the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics says it's a stretch to say Goldner won because of the libertarian in the mix. But, agrees it didn't help Schmidt. Andy Downs, Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics: “The libertarians way of campaigning in Fort Wayne, they talked a lot about fiscal responsibility, about government not being involved in economic development projects. I think it's fairly safe to say they pulled votes away from Republicans."
Downs also says libertarians made a big splash in the at-large race, gaining almost 12-thousand votes. Incumbent, Dr. John Crawford-who didn't get re-elected, is proof.
Andy Downs, Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics: "He's (Crawford) the person vocally for smoking ordinance and vocally for Harrison Square. And those are two issues the Libertarians spend a lot of time talking about."
Doug Horner (L), Lost At-Large Race: "People need to understand that we stand on ideals and values of small government, less taxes, less government intrusion and that's not where the parties have been going.”
The Libertarians plan to have candidates in the next county and school board elections.
Jonathan Bartels(L), Lost 2nd District Race: "We are obviously not a majority but we are a significant part of the district and we do need to be listened to."