Off the top of my (very groggy) head, I cannot think of too many cases where a Democrat lost a winnable race because of too many left-of-center votes drifting to a liberal third party, other than Ralph Nader’s role in the 2000 presidential election.
Last night, a withdrawn third-party bid ended up costing Republicans at least one key victory. I’m starting to think the New York 23rd district is cursed. Doug Hoffman, Conservative-party candidate, inspiring figure of 2009′s special election, made a remarkably mature decision to drop his Conservative bid this year and back the Republican, Matt Doheny. Last night, 6 percent of the district voted for Hoffman, even though he had withdrawn. Democrat Bill Owens is ahead by 2.4 percent.
In Oregon, Republican Chris Dudley is hanging on in the governor’s race; his 1.1 percent lead is less than the share of the vote that went to the Constitution-party candidate (1.4 percent) and the Libertarian-party candidate (1.3 percent).
Harry Reid will win reelection with 50.2 percent of the vote, but Sharron Angle only won 44.6 percent.
Tim Cahill cost Charlie Baker his shot at the Massachusetts governorship.
In Indiana, one of the cycle’s promising Republicans, Jackie Walorski, has fallen short by 1.4 percent while the Libertarian candidate took 5 percent.
Massachusetts Republicans are bummed this morning. In the 10th district, Democrat Bill Keating is going to win with a mere 46.9 percent of the vote.
In Rhode Island’s 1st district, a lot of Democrats worried about their man David Ciciline; he won 50.6 percent of the vote but is six points ahead of John Loughlin.
In Colorado’s governor’s race, we saw a strange reversal: the surprising 11 percent who backed Republican Dan Maes probably cost conservative independent Tom Tancredo a victory, or at least a chance to take Democrat John Hickenlooper down to the wire.
Late in this cycle, we saw desperate Democrats doing everything they could to promote little-known third-party options. Sometimes it didn’t work (Alan Grayson, Tom Perriello). But clearly the Democrats will go back to this option, time and again, until right-of-center voters realize that if you want to throw out an entrenched liberal Democrat incumbent, there is only one real option. Every vote has to be earned, but sometimes you have to be willing to take someone less than ideal if you want to throw a bum out.
UPDATE: Looks like two more near-misses for the GOP in Arizona, where the Democrat’s margin of victory will be smaller than the Libertarian Party candidate’s share of the vote.
Again, it’s a free country. But when you’re voting in a race that is neck-and-neck between Bad and Less Bad and your preferred candidate, Ideal, is in single digits, you’re not going to see Ideal suddenly leap ahead in a three-way race on the last day. If you want to beat Bad, you may have to hold your nose and vote for Less Bad.
(Many fans of Ruth McClung and Jesse Kelly will bristle at the notion that they represent mere “less bad.”)