North Carolina Libertarian Sean Haugh has attracted much attention in his race against Democratic incumbent U.S Senator Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis.
The soft-spoken pizza delivery man from Durham, North Carolina, has drawn attention for taking a substantial number of votes away from the two major-party candidates, and for admitting to marijuana usage. But there's more to Haugh than shock value, according to Dr. D. Sunshine Hillygus, associate professor of political science at Duke University.
"It’s eye catching for people to focus on his message about marijuana, but I suspect it’s actually less about his messaging and more about who he isn’t," Hillygus said. "He is an outsider. I think he’s probably capturing attention with the message about marijuana, but really the thing people would be attracted to is that he’s not a Democrat and not a Republican."
Haugh voiced something similar in his campaign's opening statement, posted on YouTube:
"The truth is, I'm mainly running for Senate just for me and my own conscience," Haugh said in the video. "I just wanted to be able to walk into the voting booth and be able to vote for something other than more violence, more war, more debt -- I just wanted to vote for peace."
Much of Haugh's campaign has taken place through similar YouTube videos and through social media, and it's been an effective way to get his message out, according to Hillygus.
"I think he’s probably reaching a lot of the people he would like to reach," she said.That observation is backed up by a number of
polls tracking the Senate race. An October 23-26 Monmouth University poll showed Haugh with one percent of the vote, an October 21-25 High Point University/SurveyUSA poll showed 5 percent, and an October 19-23 NBC News/Marist poll showed 7 percent.
Haugh has uploaded 35 videos to his YouTube channel over the past 7 months, each video between two and five minutes long. His campaign Facebook page has 2,339 likes.
But in a race where Hagan is leading Tillis by just a couple points, Haugh may lose votes if voters decide things are getting too close, Hillygus said."Voter decision making about third-party candidates is quite complicated because there are those who ideologically are in line with the candidate," she explained. "But oftentimes they’re the same ones who if the race gets close, will bail on the third-party candidate for the major-party candidate closer to their ideological preferences."
Regardless of Haugh's fate in the election, he has filled a unique niche during the race.
"I think it’s fun to see a minor-party candidate getting some attention in the race," Hillygus said. "I think, unfortunately, observers and pundits have had a difficult time predicting what the potential impact is on the race. Certainly I can say as a political scientist that we know his chances of winning are very small, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an impact on the election outcome."