Austin Petersen Announces Missouri Senate Run as a Republican
Eric Lendrum, Politics Contributor
In the midst of the Independence Day celebrations yesterday, one rising political star announced both a new campaign and a party switch. Austin Petersen, who previously ran for the Libertarian Party’s presidential nomination in 2016, announced that he is officially switching his party affiliation from Libertarian to Republican, and that he will run for the United States Senate in Missouri in 2018.
The 36-year-old activist, writer, and commentator, who previously worked for Ron Paul’s two presidential campaigns as well as Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show “Freedom Watch” on the Fox Business channel, has announced his next major campaign a little over one year after he lost the Libertarian Party’s presidential nod. In the 2016 primaries, Petersen was part of perhaps the most promising field the party had seen in decades, running against former New Mexico governor and 2012 nominee Gary Johnson, and cyber-security pioneer and businessman John McAfee.
etersen did not win any primaries and came in third in the popular vote - although he came in first place in Missouri out of all the named candidates, he ended up being second only to the option of “Uncommitted.” He did receive the second-highest amount of delegates at the Libertarian National Convention in May, with eight states’ delegations - including his home state of Missouri - throwing their support behind him. The nomination went to Johnson, who went on to get only 3% of the popular vote in the general election.
Despite this, Petersen remained extraordinarily optimistic. He endorsed Johnson after he received the nomination, even after Johnson responded by throwing away Petersen’s gift - a replica of George Washington’s pistol - at the convention. In the aftermath of the election, while some libertarians and conservatives expressed clear reservations about President Trump, Petersen remained “optimistic” about his presidency and the direction of the country under his leadership.
Petersen’s political stances were widely seen as a blend of traditional conservatism and traditional libertarianism, all based on the same foundation of adherence to the Constitution. While he maintained some traditional libertarian views such as support for a free-market system or decriminalization of certain drugs, he noticeably disagreed with some libertarian ideas from a conservative standpoint, such as supporting enforcement of immigration laws and being pro-life. Whereas Johnson supported the idea of forcing a Christian baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding, Petersen reaffirmed his support for freedom of religion and says that such an individual should not be forced to undertake such an action if it violates their beliefs.
Petersen also stood out for his grassroots style of social media campaigning and fundraising from thousands of small donations, which he declared made him the “Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama” of the Libertarian primaries. He has been noted for his youth and charisma, which PJ Media pointed out in his interview with Glenn Beck. Although his more conservative stances were seen as possibly having a strong appeal to disappointed Republicans who were not satisfied with Trump, his loss of the Libertarian nomination ultimately eliminated this possibility.
All of these factors - his youth and charisma, his campaigning and fundraising style, and his blend of views that can appeal to both libertarians and conservatives - stood in stark contrast to Johnson, who appealed more to the left with his views on taxes, freedom of religion (or lack thereof), and even criticism of the term “illegal immigrants.” Johnson was also heavily criticized for his lack of knowledge on key issues, and a failure to expand the Libertarian appeal beyond basic issues such as marijuana; Petersen, by contrast, was seen as capable of explaining his positions on just about every major issue and doing so in a manner that appealed to the voter base that is disenfranchised by modern-day Washington.
His style of conservative libertarianism, in the same vein as current members of Congress like Senator Rand Paul, and Congressmen Thomas Massie and Justin Amash, is also promising for a statewide run in his home state of Missouri, a deep-red state. In 2018, Missouri is one of five states where a “red-state Democrat” is up for reelection (the others being West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, and Montana). That Democrat is Senator Claire McCaskill, who was first elected in the Democratic wave of 2006 within the final years of George W. Bush’s presidency. Although her reelection in 2012 was initially seen as a tight race that she could very well lose, she was comfortably reelected after her Republican challenger, Todd Akin, made his career-ending controversial comments about “legitimate rape.”
But in 2018, McCaskill will be up for reelection in a midterm election rather than a presidential election. Whereas other red-state Democrats have the potential to survive based on name recognition and past records of bipartisanship, such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, McCaskill does not have either such factor working in her favor, and is thus regarded as “one of the most easily beatable” Democrats in 2018.
ith the momentum currently on the side of the GOP as they seek to expand their majority in the Senate, Missouri is a prime target for flipping a blue seat to a red seat. As such, it is likely that the Republican field will expand even further and give Petersen another challenge to overcome as he seeks to be the Republican choice. But with a certain level of national recognition, and the potential ramifications of yet another Republican Libertarian being elected to Congress, Austin Petersen in Missouri is definitely a candidate to keep a close eye on in 2018.
You can follow the author on Twitter: @EricLendrum26.
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