Libertarian could help tip Illinois governor race

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SPRINGFIELD — The Libertarian running for Illinois governor recognizes he has little chance of winning the November election, but he could play a significant role in deciding who does.

Chad Grimm, the third name on the ballot in one of the nation’s hardest-fought governor’s races, is a fiscal conservative who believes in minimalist government. The race is expected to be very close between Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner so if Grimm pulls away more than a few votes from Rauner, his candidacy could be instrumental in tipping the scales.

Illinois Republicans have used party attorneys and private investigators to try to get Grimm knocked off the ballot. While the effort has been unsuccessful so far, Grimm says it has cost him nearly $100,000 in legal fees, exhausting his war chest and limiting his ability to campaign.

Grimm, a 33-year-old gym manager from Peoria who has dabbled in acting, said his realistic goal is neither to win the governor’s race, nor to be a spoiler. It’s to build support for the Libertarians and boost third party candidates’ chances in future elections, because he believes the main two parties don’t offer a real solution to Illinois’ urgent problems.

“I really do believe, and this goes back to the spoiler scenario, (that) whoever wins, unless it’s me, we’re not going to get anything different in Springfield,” he told The Associated Press in an interview.

RELATED: New poll shows Quinn and Rauner in a dead heat

Libertarian candidates traditionally attract few Illinois voters. In 2010, the party’s candidate for governor received 1 percent of the vote while all third-party candidates drew 7 percent. In that race, Quinn beat Republican state Sen. Bill Brady by a margin of less than half of one percent, and this year’s race could be just as close.

The Libertarians also have a candidate for U.S. Senate on the ballot — Sharon Hansen of Pontiac, a 63-year-old innkeeper who says Republicans and Democrats have “ruled the country for far too long.” Her name will appear on the ballot alongside Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

The state Board of Elections approved putting the Libertarians on the ballot, but ruled that candidates for the Green, Constitution and Independent parties had not gathered sufficient petition signatures. Last week, a Sangamon County judge rejected an appeal by Republicans seeking to have Grimm thrown off the ballot.

Rauner’s campaign says it doesn’t see Grimm as a real threat.

“There are only two people who have a chance to become governor next year,” spokesman Mike Schrimpf said. “On election day, voters understand that choice.”

Grimm said he aims to net at least 5 percent of the vote so Illinois officially recognizes his party in future elections. That would mean other Libertarian candidates won’t have to go through as difficult a process to qualify for the ballot.

Grimm advocates abolishing the state’s income tax, expanding gun rights, eliminating the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana, among a range of policies he says would eliminate problems by providing more freedoms.

He says he’s had to get creative in getting his message out, relying on social media and radio interviews to explain positions he acknowledges can sound “a little out there” at first blush.

He says he became a Libertarian after toying with the idea of running for office as a Republican, but found himself butting heads with local party officials. The Libertarian Party nominated him at their annual convention in Bolingbrook last September.

While Grimm’s various policies could appeal to both liberals and conservatives, analysts say he’s more likely to pick off Republican voters because of his anti-tax, pro-gun stances. But conservative voters also may be hesitant to vote for him, understanding they could ultimately be helping Quinn, the Democrat.

“The question is, will people engage in sincere voting or strategic voting?” said Matt Streb, chairman of Northern Illinois University’s political science department.

KERRY LESTER, Associated Press

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