Democrats and Republicans deceptively propped up third-party candidates

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One Missouri resident was sent eight mailers in one day. The mailers were meant to influence voters to vote for a third-party candidate over Republican Josh Hawley. (via twitter)

With the Arizona Senate battle still too close to call, Green Party candidate Angela Green is being labeled a potential “spoiler,” as she has so far collected more than 40,000 votes in a race that will likely be decided by razor-thin margins.

Green dropped out of the race and endorsed Democrat Kyrsten Sinema days before the election, but her name remained on the ballot, and a majority of Arizona residents vote early by mail.

It wouldn’t be the first Senate race labeled as “spoiled” by a third-party candidate. In West Virginia, for example, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) won re-election by a roughly-19,000 vote margin, while Libertarian Rusty Hollen collected more than 24,000 votes.

In addition to being labeled a “spoiler,” Green was one of many third-party candidates to be used as a tool of the country’s two major political parties during the lead-up to the 2018 election.

Days before the election, the Arizona Republican Party sent out mailers that “attacked” Green by tying her to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) popular policies among Democrats, including Medicare for All and legalization of marijuana. Another mailer portrayed Green was “too liberal,” and that she wanted to cover “all pre-existing conditions,” in an apparent attempt to advertise Green as an option for likely Democratic voters.

Democratic groups appeared to use similarly deceptive tactics in several crucial Senate races, though in these cases the mailers explicitly advocated for conservative Libertarians and the exact source of the direct mail was hidden.

Montana residents were sent anonymous mailers supporting Libertarian Senate candidate Rick Breckenridge as the “true conservative” in the race and attacking Republican Matt Rosendale. Breckenridge dropped out of the race and endorsed Rosendale on Oct. 31 after hearing about the mailers, which Rosendale linked to a Democrat-friendly print shop out of New Jersey.

Just a few days earlier, eventual-winner Sen. Jon Tester expressed frustration over a bogus email claiming to be from the Montana Democratic Party that said Tester wanted to “abolish ICE.” Before the election really got underway, it was revealed that Montana Senate Green Party hopeful Timothy Adams was at one point on the GOP’s payroll.

Still, this isn’t the first time Tester has benefitted from a shady group backing a Libertarian candidate. A small group called Montana Hunters and Anglers spent on advertisements to support Libertarian Dan Cox as the “true conservative” in Tester’s 2012 Senate race. Tester won by roughly 18,000 votes, while Cox collected nearly 32,000 votes.

In Missouri, anonymous mailers criticized eventual Senate-elect Josh Hawley, a Republican, for his positions on gun rights and other issues, while urging voters to support Libertarian Japeth Campbell and conservative independent Craig O’Dear. The mailers — along with Facebook ads supporting conservative third-party candidates and attacking Republicans in Missouri, Montana, Oregon and Indiana — were sent out by the Coalition for a Safe Secure America, an unknown organization that is not registered with the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

The shadowy group isn’t the only one to support Libertarian Lucy Brenton in the Indiana Senate race. The Indiana Democratic Party and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) were blatant in their promotion of Brenton, creating several Facebook pages — including one called Hoosier Conservatives — to prop up the Libertarian and attack Republican candidate Mike Braun, who ended up winning the race.

These kinds of tactics were abundant during the lead up to election day. In the Michigan Governor race, Republican-linked super PAC called Michigan People for Progress sent out mailers tying Green Party candidate Jennifer Kurland to Bernie Sanders in an apparent attempt to take away votes from Democratic Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer — despite the fact that Sanders previously campaigned with Whitmer.

In the race for New York’s 19th District, GOP-funded Super PAC Fight For Tomorrow shelled out nearly $100,000 in support of Green Party candidate Steve Greenfield. The group disclosed spending $50,000 on media — including mailers that portrayed Greenfield as the “true progressive” in the race instead of Democrat Antonio Delgado, the eventual winner — on Nov. 5 alone.

In all of these cases, the third-party candidate being promoted strongly disavowed the efforts by outside groups to mess with the election.

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