Under the Dome

Libertarians look to keep NC ballot status with candidate slate

Libertarian Party Senate candidate Sean Haugh speaks during a live televised debate at WECT studios in Wilmington, N.C. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014.
Libertarian Party Senate candidate Sean Haugh speaks during a live televised debate at WECT studios in Wilmington, N.C. on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014. AP

After a quiet year, the Libertarian Party of North Carolina launched campaigns for three of the state’s highest offices on Wednesday.

Durham pizza delivery driver Sean Haugh is back for another Libertarian campaign for U.S. Senate, this time challenging incumbent Republican Richard Burr. Retired High Point engineer Lon Cecil filed to run for governor, and the party’s chairman, J.J. Summerell of Greensboro, is running for lieutenant governor.

North Carolina’s only formally recognized third party is also fielding candidates for eight seats in the legislature, most of them in Wake County.

The stakes are high for Libertarians next year: The party’s candidate must receive at least 2 percent of the vote for governor or president. If it doesn’t, Libertarian candidates won’t automatically appear on the ballot in the next election.

“That will be our primary focus,” said Brian Irving, the party’s vice president. “That was one of the reasons we looked at recruiting as many candidates as possible – we’re calling it a reverse coattails effect.”

The idea is that active House and Senate campaigns across the state will build interest in the Libertarian ticket, helping Cecil and the party’s presidential candidate. Irving said that Cecil, Haugh and Summerell plan to campaign together.

“Our target has been to find districts where the incumbents historically run unopposed, especially in the state Senate,” Irving said, adding that the early primary and filing period has left the party with little time to recruit candidates.

Party leaders are already working to get the statewide candidates in debates alongside their Democratic and Republican opponents – the sort of major publicity that helped Haugh win 3.7 percent of votes for U.S. Senate last year.

An unlikely candidate, Haugh garnered national attention in 2014 as he competed with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis. He became known for his informal campaign videos that featured him sitting in his basement sipping craft beer.

As the election approached, a deep-pocketed conservative group ran “get Haugh, get high” ads highlighting Haugh’s support of marijuana legalization – an apparent attempt to draw some Democrats away from Hagan.

Haugh will start the campaign with better name recognition than his Libertarian colleagues. Cecil ran unsuccessfully in 2010 for Congress in the 12th District, receiving about 2 percent of the vote against incumbent Mel Watt.

Cecil said in a news release that jobs will be the focus of his campaign. “We need to bring clean, modern industries to this state that can manufacture goods for energy, transportation and better environmental conditions.” he said. “It will take more than short-term corporate tax bribes, however.”

With polls indicating a close race between Gov. Pat McCrory and the leading Democratic candidate, Attorney General Roy Cooper, Cecil could play a spoiler role in the election if he draws many voters away from the major parties.

Summerell will challenge Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a Republican. Summerell is a benefits communications and enrollment firm manager from Greensboro and says his campaign will focus on education.

“Our public schools are in desperate need of reform,” he said in a news release. “Our community college program is functioning effectively, but not particularly efficiently, and our public university system is at risk of becoming overtly political.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter