Part of the kabuki dance of being a third party candidate for political office is having to convince skeptical voters and donors that you have even a slim shot at victory.
David Lashar, the Libertarian nominee for governor, has dispensed with all that this time. A lifelong Republican and a former top official in the Maryland Department of Health, Lashar quit the party to protest the rise of Donald Trump.
In an interview with Maryland Matters, he said he has set a lower — but perhaps more achievable — objective for himself. He’s gunning to outpoll Republican nominee Dan Cox.
Finishing behind only Democrat Wes Moore, Lashar said, would send the message “that we do not have to be subject to the dreadful behavior that we’re getting from both of the parties, and that Trumpism is on the wane [and that] Trumpism can be beat.”
The 59-year-old Lashar campaigned for GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole in 1988. He then became a policy analyst on Capitol Hill before taking a series of IT jobs in the private sector.
After Republican Larry Hogan became governor in 2015, Lashar was appointed to the Maryland Transportation Commission. Restless in a position he viewed as ceremonial, he moved to the Department of Health, first as chief information officer, then as chief operating officer and chief of staff. The rise of Donald Trump pushed Lashar out of the GOP and he became a Libertarian. He took 2.6% of the vote as the Libertarian nominee for Congress in the 3rd District in 2018.
For a third party or independent candidate to out-poll a major party candidate is highly unusual. But Cox, a one-term state delegate and conspiracy-mongering acolyte of Trump with a thin resume, is on course to get trampled. In a University of Maryland/Washington Post poll released on Saturday, Cox was the choice of just 28% of voters. Moore was preferred by 60%. (Third-party candidates were not included in the poll.)
The Post/University of Maryland poll, which surveyed 810 registered voters, showed that Hogan has the highest job approval rating — 73% — of his eight years in office. That eye-popping number reinforces how wildly unpopular Cox is with the electorate.
Another recent poll, conducted by Goucher College poll the Baltimore Banner and WYPR, showed Moore 22 points up on Cox — 53% to 31%. Lashar attracted 4%, Green Party candidate Nancy Wallace drew 2%, and Working Class Party candidate David Harding did not register.
When Lashar launched his campaign for governor, he said in an interview last week, his goal was “to push the ideas, contribute to the civic debate, and get 4 or 5%.”
But when Cox defeated Hogan’s choice in the Republican primary, former Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz, and Moore finished first among Democrats, Lashar said he decided to shift strategy. Hogan has pointedly said he would not vote for Cox, and other mainstream Republicans may be reluctant to do so.
“With the way the primaries turned out, it opened up 60% of the electorate to me,” Lashar said. “It opened up everybody that’s between a JFK liberal and a Reagan conservative.”
“I’m out to beat Dan Cox at this point,” he added. “I want to help put a nail in the coffin of Trumpism.”
Finishing second will be tough, said Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College. Like most third party candidates, Lashar will have virtually no party apparatus to support him and he is destined to trail far behind in fundraising. In addition, he has been excluded from what is shaping up to be the marquee debate of the campaign, Oct. 12 on Maryland Public Television.
(Lashar, who will be part of an online candidate forum co-sponsored by Maryland Matters a day later, conceded that he attended the Tawes Clambake in Crisfield for the first time last week because “as a third party candidate, it’s hard for me to throw an event and have people come to me, so our strategy is go to where the people are already congregating.”)
While few people give Cox much shot at a win, it’s widely expected that he will attract at least a third of the vote, no matter how badly he is outspent or how outlandish his views. “Polarization has reached the point where there are folks that are going to pull the Republican lever no matter what,” Eberly said.
The issues that animate Republican politics today — critical race theory, communism, Marxism, socialism, “the nonsense about indoctrinating our kids in school with the LGBTQ+ mafia” — are, in Eberly’s view “geared toward scaring the hell out of people.”
Lashar and his running mate, Christina Logansmith, a Navy veteran and small business owner, have put together a platform at least as broad as Cox’s. Their policies fall under three umbrellas — opportunity, accountability and civility. He frequently retweets a tweet from a political figure or media outlet to spotlight his alternative positions or amplify his views. The challenge will be in communicating with voters. In their most recent campaign finance report, the duo had less than $10,000 cash on hand.
Eberly said Lashar is right about one thing. A second-place finish would be a mighty accomplishment. “If a Libertarian candidate wound up coming in second in a gubernatorial contest, even in a state like Maryland, absolutely that would wind up making news,” he said.