In a year of unusual candidates, Libertarian Chad Grimm may be the most atypical of the bunch.
The 33-year old gym manager from Peoria is polling at 7%, more than twice the margin by which Democrat incumbent Pat Quinn leads Republican challenger Bruce Rauner.
Republicans accuse Grimm of being a spoiler candidate, siphoning away votes that could give Rauner the lead. They’ve worked to get him off the ballot in November, but to no avail. [pullquote]
To be sure, Grimm is a complicated candidate.
He is pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-tax, but also pro-marijuana legalization, pro-marriage equality, and he has derided the wealthy Rauner as a “billionaire venture capitalist.” Grimm promises to lead Illinois into an era of “less taxes, less prisons and less red tape.”
America doesn’t have much experience with Libertarians. We know Ron and Rand Paul by now and they’ve both raised the profile of Libertarianism tremendously. That said, candidates like Grimm still lack a natural constituency who will support them.
It follows that the fact that Grimm is polling at 7%, enough to decide the outcome of the election and then some, begs the question of what’s going on with our two-party system.
To this end, Grimm is benefitting from the same pervasive dissatisfaction with American politics that is shaping races from Kansas to South Dakota to Maine.
Voters are angry and frustrated with the state of politics in America. And it looks like many of those who may have once held their noses and voted for a Democrat or a Republican are finally starting to get serious about other options.
Over 40% of Americans are now identifying as independents. We’re seeing their voting power in action in both Kansas and South Dakota’s senate races where independents Greg Orman and Larry Pressler are not only in contention, but leading in some polls.
But in Illinois, where politics is notoriously rough and four of the last seven governors have wound up in prison, any candidate who wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican has been forced off the ballot, except for Grimm.
So what makes Grimm so special?
I’m not convinced that he really is. His role in the election is more about sending a message to Illinois’s established politicians. And that leaves them with little choice but to vote for Grimm. Either that, or they bite the bullet and vote for the deeply unpopular Quinn, or Rauner, who’s earned a reputation as a behind the scenes Republican donor.
For frustrated Americans, biting the bullet is less appetizing than ever before.
As the races in Kansas and South Dakota show, people are becoming less willing to vote for a candidate they perceive as the lesser of two evils and more willing to see a vote for an independent or third party candidate as a positive political statement, rather than a wasted vote.
Put another way, voters across America are looking for ways to register their unhappiness with the state of our politics and the quality of our politicians. Voting for a candidate like Grimm is one way to do that.
When people hear a candidate say, as Grimm has said about Quinn and Rauner, that, “Once [politicians] get elected, the doors close, they smoke the same cigars, and pass the same kind of legislation,” voters recognize the sense of mistrust and dissatisfaction that is spreading throughout the American electorate, and they respond to it.
While Grimm won’t be taking over the governorship, he may very well win enough votes on Election Day to deny either Rauner or Quinn the office.
The message to Republicans and Democrats is clear. They need to take a good, hard look at why so many Americans just don’t want to vote for their candidates any more. And they need to change it.