Report on the 1996 Presidential Election Campaign, part 3


We were able to open some new sources of funds - mostly from the investment community. Quite a few investment advisors made maximum donations to the Browne Campaign - $1,000 before the convention and $1,000 afterward. But we were able to get larger donations as well for the LP. Mark Skousen, Bob Bishop, Doug Casey, William Dunn, Robert Prechter, and Adrian Day were among those who gave at least $20,000. And there were others who gave $5,000 or more.

However, because of lack of time and manpower, we missed an important opportunity - having these people mail fund-raising letters to their subscription lists. We don't know whether this would have been profitable, but I wish we had found out.

In the near future, we should arrange for these people to sign membership-prospecting letters to be mailed to their readers.

We made no dent in the business community. I believe we can do so, however. I hope to be able to speak before business groups over the next couple of years. I think it's possible to motivate them to join the party and become major contributors.

Toward the end of the campaign, we seemed to find the formula for fund-raising events. We had several very profitable events - in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Boston, among others. These were cocktail receptions or dinners.

Final Vote Total

The vote total was very disappointing - even though it was a large improvement over 1992. Given the amount of effort from so many people that went into the campaign, given the greater amount of media coverage, given the way the message seemed to resonate with people who had never considered voting Libertarian before, I was confident we would easily exceed a million votes.

Explanations have been offered for the result - that there were so many third parties in the race this time, that the race between Dole and Clinton seemed to be narrowing near the end, voter turnout was low, and so on - but none of them provide much of an answer. For example, if we'd gotten all the votes that were cast for Howard Phillips and John Hagelin, we'd still be way under a million - and Ralph Nader's votes weren't ours to be had.

I believe we should assume that the Hurdle of Irrelevancy has struck again - that people who intended to vote Libertarian decided at the last minute that it really wouldn't achieve anything to do so. Until we overcome that hurdle, we cannot expect to rack up impressive vote totals.

If we can hang onto the new members acquired the past two years, and if we can continue expanding, and if we can retain the respect of the converts we've made in the media, the vote total won't matter.

I have not done any radio shows since the election, so I don't know what the feeling is there. But I have been heartened by the large quantity of mail I've received since the election - all of it from people talking about 2000 and eager to get to work. If this is indicative of Libertarians in general, the vote total was no setback.

I think we should assume this to be the case. We need to capitalize on all the achievements of the campaign - the new respectability for the party, the new fund-raising sources, the new relationships with the media, the increased LP membership, the energy and enthusiasm Libertarians displayed during the campaign.

We need to assure that these leads don't grow cold. We need to keep all these lines of communication open.


I have a number of suggestions to make for future Presidential campaigns.

The 1996 campaign should demonstrate the importance of having sufficient money to make an impact on the press and the public.

In my own campaign, we got off to a slow start because of the need to raise the initial seed money. It is far better if a Presidential candidate has a large warchest of money before he announces. Thus he should have an exploratory committee raising money in advance of the announcement. He should start with at least $1 million on hand - so that his first few months aren't consumed trying to raise the money with which to raise further money.

The LP must also have a large warchest ready to spend at the beginning of 2000 on general LP ads, and then be in a position to spend in earnest after the convention. The LP will need to have at least $10 million in the bank at the start of 2000, available for the Presidential campaign.

New fund-raising programs must be developed now - to reach businessmen and other wealthy donors. We need to develop appeals that are based on something other than electoral success, in order to bypass the Hurdle of Irrelevancy.

The LP should have a long-term campaign strategy, formulated well before 2000. There should be active cooperation between LP Headquarters and each of the candidates for the nomination throughout the primary period. While each candidate will have his own ideas about the message and strategy, the LP should have a master plan that is likely to dovetail with any of the serious candidates. It is a big mistake to expect the candidate and the party to begin talking to each other only after the convention has made its choice.

Campaign consultants from outside the LP should be brought in, but they shouldn't have final authority. That should remain with the National Director, the candidate's Campaign Manager, and the candidate.

Although volunteers aren't generally as productive as paid workers, they should be armed with the ammunition necessary for letters to editors, staging events, and the like. Everyone who calls the 800 number during January-September 2000 should get a volunteer electioneering kit, providing help for all sorts of volunteer tasks. I felt very badly that we had so many people offering to help and we had no tools to give them.

We need people who are expert at staging fund-raisers, rallies, and other events to advise local groups when planning these events.

There should be a program to target special-interest groups - beginning way before the 2000 election season.

We need to make sure that all responses to 800 number calls are prompt, and the fulfillment material should be reviewed periodically to make sure it's up to date and includes the best available literature.

We need training programs for Congressional and state candidates. We also need candidate recruitment programs - to find the best people to run.

We provided local candidates with a common campaign theme and we did a lot to establish nationwide recognition of the LP. But we didn't have the resources to coordinate activities with local candidates. I'm sure a lot of opportunities were lost as a result.

We need an organized program to set up campus Libertarian clubs. The Gen-X audience is a big market for us, but they can't be reached through normal political channels because most of them aren't interested in politics. Campus organizations can do a lot to make contact with them.

We need to give the local parties more tools to help them recruit people who have joined the national party. Not all these people will want to become actively involved in campaigns, but we could probably recruit more than we're getting now.

Frequently I read a comment from someone that the LP shouldn't focus so much on the Presidential race until after it has elected a large number of people into state and local offices. I don't agree with this. The Presidential campaign tells people everywhere who Libertarians are and what they stand for. It attracts new members. The visibility of a national campaign also adds to fund-raising capabilities at all levels.


Numerous ways have been suggested to get us over the Hurdle of Irrelevancy. Unfortunately, none of them are likely to succeed. There is no magic pole that is going to vault us over the Hurdle of Irrelevancy. The party has made tremendous progress in the past two years, but that progress was built on all the work that was done over the preceding 23 years. We can achieve electoral success while remaining true to the purpose of the party only by building that success step by step. That's what has brought us this far, and that's what will take us the rest of the way. Every short- cut leaves us in a vulnerable position.

In a sense, we have had to crawl before we could walk. Now we are walking. Soon we may be running.

The only way we will overcome the Hurdle is by building a much larger party, because the Hurdle itself doesn't block us from building the party. Someone can join the LP without having to see proof that we're on the verge of electoral success. He invests only $25 in joining, and he gets benefits that don't depend on winning elections - but in the process he makes it a little more possible that we'll win elections.

We need to identify all the benefits an individual derives from joining the party, and then create some more benefits. Some of these might be increased news of libertarian legislative triumphs and setbacks, news of what libertarians are doing elsewhere. Perhaps LP News should be expanded. We can provide sales advice to help a member convert his friends to his way of thinking. We can provide training programs, social events tied to some political purpose, and other events that make it enjoyable to be in the party - and which are directly related to the purpose of the party.

All these are being done to some extent now, but they should be expanded on an organized, supervised basis - with professional LP staffers who have the sole responsibility to increase the attractiveness of party membership. This is separate from prospecting letters; this involves designing the product, not selling it.

We must do a better job of showing the present members how important it is to build membership. We must help them visualize what a membership of 200,000 in 2000 would mean - in terms of money available, manpower to work the precincts, impact on the national media, and so on. And then we should develop contests, premiums, and other incentives to get members to recruit new members. Such programs should be more than just exhortation; we should provide the tools with which members can effectively recruit.

We should consider having commissioned salesmen who frequent gatherings where our best prospects meet.


Despite our low vote totals, one thing we have to sell is optimism. The people who should be joining the party are, generally, pessimistic about the prospects for liberty. But they shouldn't be.

People want what Libertarians are offering. We - not the Republicans, Democrats, or Perotistas - are the ones offering a better life with specific proposals to bring that about.

We should gather all the polling information possible, plus all the anecdotal evidence we can find - and continually spread to members and prospects the message that the American people are on our side.

Small-L libertarians everywhere should be told over and over not to despair - that they are not alone, that there is a rapidly growing organization of like- minded people who represent the tens of millions of Americans who think government is way too big and want to see it reduced sharply.

Don't despair! Come join us and see the progress for yourself.

Once the membership has reached a certain level - 50,000? - the growth itself will be a powerful example of everything we have to sell. This is where all libertarians should be - in the Libertarian Party. It is growing by leaps and bounds, it is full of people working to do something significant, it is on the side of history, it is becoming an impressive force in American politics.

If we enter 2000 with 200,000 members, membership dues alone will be $5 million for 2000. In 1996 we raised roughly $250 for everyone who was a member at the start of the year ($3 million รท 12,000 members). The same yield with 200,000 members would be $50 million. If we obtain more than 200,000 members, so much the better.

With a large membership, we will have people in almost every precinct of the country - able to take our message door-to-door if the media continue to ignore us.

If we have the wherewithal, we should be running TV ads on the Presidential campaign from the start of 2000 - even before the nominee is chosen. These ads can lay out general LP proposals, and they should establish the LP as an important competitor in the 2000 race. Once we do that, no one - not the media or the American people - will ignore us.

By sheer weight of members and money, we will have overcome the Hurdle of Irrelevancy.

Even so, we may not win the Presidency in 2000. We will still be such a new phenomenon to most voters that many of them may be hesitant to take the plunge. But we will be in a position to win 15% - 30% of the vote, and establish ourselves as the leading contender to whichever party wins the election.

If so, we would most likely win many Congressional seats in 2002.

And then, by 2004, we would have over a million members and be the odds-on favorite to win the White House.

We had to crawl for 23 years. Over the past two years, we've started walking. Over the next four years we can begin running.

Yes, it's a great time to be a Libertarian. And I am honored to have played a part in the party's progress as the 1996 Presidential candidate.

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