Will Jacob Hornberger Sweep Upcoming Libertarian Presidential Primaries and Caucuses? If He Does, How Much Will It Matter?

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been racking up wins in state-level contests of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Much less mentioned in the media is that Libertarian presidential candidate Jacob Hornberger won the February 8 Iowa Libertarian caucus with 47 percent of the vote. This put Hornberger far ahead of other candidates for the nomination, including Lincoln Chafee — a former governor and United States senator — who came in second with 13 percent.

Writing about his victory in Iowa, Hornberger noted that he will also be participating in upcoming Libertarian presidential nomination state-level votes:

On Super Tuesday, March 3, I will be on the ballot in three states — North Carolina, Massachusetts, and California. The following week, I will be the only LP presidential candidate on the ballot in the Missouri primary election. More will come after that.

The results from Iowa suggest that we could see a Hornberger sweep in upcoming Libertarian presidential primaries and caucuses.

Hornberger, in a November 8 post at his campaign website, announced a campaign strategy that places much focus on winning “big” the North Carolina Libertarian Party presidential primary, where he has spent much time campaigning. And, from his comments since his Iowa win, it appears that Hornberger’s campaign is planning to put significant effort into doing well in other 2020 Libertarian presidential primaries and caucuses as well.

This focus for a Libertarian presidential campaign can seem perplexing. Even if the plan succeeds with Hornberger winning primaries and caucuses with a landslide, it is not clear how that accomplishment will be much help toward winning the party’s nomination or toward then doing well as the Libertarian presidential nominee.

These Libertarian primaries and caucuses occur in much fewer states than do their Republican and Democratic counterparts. And, unlike in the state-level contests of the bigger two parties, the Libertarian results do not determine the allocation of national convention delegates. This means that Hornberger winning big in a state does nothing in itself to stop the state’s delegation to the national convention from being made up entirely of supporters of other candidates. Still, primary and caucus wins in several states, especially by wide margins, may be looked upon favorably by delegates from those and other states. The results can be seen as indicating that Hornberger can effectively communicate to people and bring out the vote.

One big reason to question the potential benefit of achieving victories in libertarian primaries and caucuses is that Hornberger’s opponents for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination can just say the victories are pointless given that the victories yield no delegates at the national convention where the party’s nominee is picked and that other Libertarian candidates’ campaigns therefore chose to dedicate much less or no effort toward winning Libertarian primaries and caucuses. Such an argument could be persuasive for national convention delegates.

Another issue is that Hornberger and his campaign placing a big commitment of time and effort toward winning primaries and caucuses can interfere with the ability to undertake tasks that may be more helpful in both securing the nomination and proceeding with a strong general election campaign.

In addition to his stands on issues and his ability to communicate well, Hornberger, like other candidates for the Libertarian presidential nomination, will be judged by national convention delegates on a number of other factors. Fundraising and obtaining media coverage are among those factors. Many delegates will want to see significant accomplishments in these areas before the convention so they can feel confident a candidate is ready and able to make a big impact as the nominee.

Maybe a focus on winning state caucuses and primaries will help accomplish fundraising and media goals. Maybe it will distract from accomplishing those goals.

Consider that travel across the country can be key to maximizing fundraising through in-person contact and events. It also provides the opportunity to seek campaign coverage from larger-audience media entities. With much media a libertarian presidential candidate has at most two opportunities for receiving coverage focused on his campaign — once when he swings through an area as a candidate before the national convention and again when he swings through a second time as the nominee.

Travel across the country can also be encouraging to national convention delegates who want an opportunity to meet the candidate and see him have an event and create a stir in their respective parts of the country.

In contrast, a libertarian presidential candidate dedicating much time to campaigning in a few states because they have caucuses or primaries can lead to the candidate spending much time on apparently lower-return activities. Hornberger manning tables at gun shows or being a guest on quirky, small-audience shows in North Carolina may help him win big in the state’s primary. But, will those actions contribute more toward building his overall campaign than would alternative actions? Maybe not, if the actions just generate votes in the state primary. However, if campaigning and victories in state-level contests are profiled in major media reports or generate a large increase in campaign contributions, then the campaigning and victories may turn out to be fruitful for the overall campaign.

It should also be noted that a strategy focused on recruiting, gaining, retaining, and utilizing national convention delegates committed to a candidate is likely as important as anything else for securing the nomination. The nomination decision is made by individuals who expend time, effort, and money to go through the processes in each state to become national convention delegates and then expend more time, effort, and money to travel to and participate at the Libertarian Party national convention. Campaigns that ensure their supporters become delegates, obtain commitments from delegates, and make sure supportive delegates attend the national convention and participate in the interest of the candidates’ nomination — including in potential last-minute votes regarding confusing procedural issues — will have a leg up on the competition.

Kudos to Hornberger for his Iowa win. And it will be interesting to see how he fares in upcoming state-level contests. But, remember that what matters for securing the Libertarian Party presidential nomination is winning a majority vote of delegates at the national convention. Winning most Libertarian primaries and caucuses, even winning them big, does not ensure that result.

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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