David Lashar acknowledges his bid to become Maryland’s next governor is a long shot. But, he says, this is not a no-shot situation.
Nationally, Democrats are feeling the drag from President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings and an economy heading for recession — and historically, the party in control of the White House has taken losses in its first midterm election.
Closer to home, Republicans have nominated a candidate for governor, Dan Cox, who attended then-President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021 rally at the Ellipse before a mob overran the U.S. Capitol building. One long-time Republican has disavowed the party after Cox’s win, while GOP Gov. Larry Hogan says he won’t support Cox.
Lashar thinks more voters than usual will take a look at what the Libertarian Party has to offer.
Lashar, an information technology specialist who held high-ranking roles at the state health department, hopes voters will see him and his running mate, small business owner Christiana Logansmith, as “compelling alternatives” to the candidates put forward by the major parties.
“I do think we can win with some lucky breaks. And not as many lucky breaks as it would normally take because the times are different,” Lashar said over coffee at an Annapolis coffee shop.
Libertarians have traditionally not done well in Maryland elections. They’re badly outnumbered and underfunded compared to the two main parties.
In the last election for governor in 2018, the Libertarian nominee Shawn Quinn got just 0.6% of the vote. According to state board of elections data, since 1986 the best a Libertarian candidate has done is Quinn’s 1.5% of the vote in 2014. Some years, the Libertarians haven’t even fielded a candidate for governor.
Lashar’s own experience includes running for Congress in 2018 and earning 2.6% of the vote.
Minor party candidates like Lashar face a long road to getting elected, according to Christopher Devine, an assistant professor at the University of Dayton who has studied and written about the Libertarian Party.
Libertarians consider themselves the largest of the nation’s minor parties, having ballot access for presidential contests in all 50 states and usually winning the largest share of votes among minor party candidates, he said.
That said, being the largest of the minor parties isn’t saying much. In the 2020 presidential election, Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen won just 1.18% of the popular vote.
In Maryland, 17,308 of the state’s more than 4.1 million registered voters selected Libertarian as their party of choice. The other recognized third parties in Maryland are the smaller Green Party and the Working Class Party, which also have nominated candidates for governor. (The socialist Bread and Roses Party folded last winter.)
“The biggest challenge for minor party candidates, and it has been for the Libertarian Party, is just convincing people you have a shot,” Devine said.
Candidates like Lashar need to make a meaningful argument that they can win and they can govern if elected, Devine said. Otherwise, voters will typically only vote for minor party candidates if they think the outcome of an election is a foregone conclusion and they want to make a statement with their vote.
The worst scenario for a minor party candidate is when there’s a tight race between Democratic and Republican candidates.
“Always a challenge for Libertarians and any minor party candidate is that idea that only a Democrat or Republican can win,” Devine said. “If that’s how people are feeling going into Election Day, it’s a two-person race that either candidate will win, they will vote for the party they’d prefer to see in power.”
Lashar thinks he can tap into dissatisfaction with the nation’s polarized politics this year and offer another option.
Like many Libertarians, Lashar is a former Republican, though he maintains there’s an appeal to libertarianism for people who find themselves on the right or the left of the political spectrum.
Libertarians, with their focus on personal choice and responsibility, can encompass a wide range of policy ideas, Lashar said.
“For any Marylander who considers themselves to be anywhere on the political spectrum from a JFK liberal through a Bill Clinton moderate to a Reagan conservative, I submit that I am their candidate. I submit that they should at least take a look at me,” Lashar said.
The 59-year-old Annapolis resident spent time early in his career working as a staffer on Capitol Hill, including for what was known then as the Wednesday Group, a caucus of moderate Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives. His most notable accomplishment, he said, was helping write legislation that opened the door for states to use public-private partnerships for highway projects.
After that taste of politics, Lashar moved into business, earning a master’s degree and working first in manufacturing and later in information technology. He worked for the Maryland Department of Health under Gov. Larry Hogan for nearly three years as chief information officer and then chief operating officer.
Lashar said he first grew frustrated with the Republican Party during the invasion of Iraq and the war on terror. Then the message of the party got boiled down to simply being against taxes, against abortion and against Democrats.
“Republicans haven’t had anything to say beyond that for at least 25 years,” Lashar said.
Trump’s nomination sent him away from the party for good.
“My condemnation of the Republican Party is that once Donald Trump got the nomination, the rest of the party failed to rein him in,” he said.
So he found his way to the Libertarian Party, which he describes as espousing “an abiding faith in the ability of individuals to make decisions for themselves and their loved ones.”
Put another way: “You make your own decisions, but you own your decisions made.”
How does that work in Maryland? Lashar says that during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, for example, he would have done more education on preventing transmission and illness with fewer mandates governing behavior. He thinks that Hogan overreached his authority with some of the pandemic orders, such as those requiring people to stay at home and to wear masks.
Lashar said he’s already drafted legislation that would change Maryland’s laws so that if a governor declares a health emergency, it would be limited to 90 days and the General Assembly would have to approve extending it.
Likewise, Libertarians support both those who oppose abortion and those who favor abortion access, Lashar said.
Lashar also favors term limits for lawmakers, believing having a turnover of new faces and ideas results in better policy. Maryland’s governor already is limited to serving two consecutive terms; if elected, Lashar said he’d serve just one.
“I’m not going to be doing political calculation on anything that I do in my four years about what’s going to get me reelected,” he said. “I’m gonna be going on my personal compass.”
Lashar acknowledges that few people have political beliefs that align perfectly with Libertarian ideas. “But what people will find is three out of five, four out of five will line up,” he said.
Even when the major party candidates are unpopular, minor party candidates rarely get much traction, said Todd Eberly, a political scientist at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He pointed to the 2016 presidential election that came down to Trump and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton, “two of the least-popular candidates ever.” The third party candidates in that election combined for maybe 5% of the vote.
Even if Cox is not a desirable candidate, voters are so ingrained to choose between Republicans and Democrats rather than looking elsewhere, Eberly said.
“Just because many Republicans may not be happy with Dan Cox, a Trumpist nominee, doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly say, ‘This party that I’ve never been a member of might be a better fit for me,’” Eberly said.
Minor party candidates have occasionally played a significant factor in local elections in Maryland. In 2020, Green Party candidate Franca Muller Paz captured 36% of the vote in an unsuccessful bid to win a seat on the Baltimore City Council.
In 2010, the Green Party’s Mike Shay captured 5.4% of the vote in a run for Anne Arundel County executive. He fared better — but still didn’t win — eight years later when he ran for the House of Delegates as a Democrat, garnering 46% of the vote.
Lashar does not have the advantages that Republican and Democratic candidates have, such as fundraising software and lists of likely voters to target. Lashar is relying on his IT background to build that from scratch. He splits his days doing IT consulting and building his campaign.
He also lags in fundraising. Since last fall, Lashar has raised about $17,500 for his campaign, with $5,000 of that transferred over from his old congressional campaign account, according to state records.
There’s been no independent polling yet to see how Lashar might stack up against Republican nominee Cox and Democratic nominee Wes Moore in the general election. But Lashar is likely starting from way behind them.
“If we get into double digits, the people who are supporting us are sending a strong signal that I believe will get national attention that there is a genuine dissatisfaction with Republicans and Democrats, the two-party holy war,” Lashar said. “And that they need to change their ways.”