Gravel Joins the Libertarians

Gravel Joins the Libertarians

By Alec MacGillis
Mike Gravel is headed to the convention in Denver. No, not that one. The septuagenarian former Alaska senator, who, depending on your viewpoint, was an amusing or aggravating presence in the early Democratic presidential debates, has announced that he is joining the Libertarian Party and will be competing for its presidential nomination in Denver in late May.

“I’m joining the Libertarian Party because it is a party that combines a commitment to freedom and peace that can’t be found in the two major parties that control the government and politics of America,” Gravel said in a statement. “My libertarian views, as well as my strong stance against war, the military industrial complex and American imperialism, seem not to be tolerated by Democratic Party elites who are out of touch with the average American.”

Gravel’s run for the Democratic nomination was marked by some memorable curmudgeonly comments from the far wings of the debate stage, such his declaration in April, in response to other candidates’ threats against Iran, “I got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me — they frighten me.” His poll numbers stayed in decimal territory, but he drew spikes of Web traffic to his debate highlights and his minimalist campaign ads, including one in which he stared at the camera for an unnervingly long time before heaving a rock into a lake and walking away.

Gravel was barred from the debates beginning with the October one in Philadelphia (which, perhaps not coincidentally, was the debate where Hillary Clinton’s aura of inevitability began to crumble, with her hedged answer on several issues, including drivers’ licenses for immigrants.)

Andrew Davis, a spokesman for the Libertarian Party, said that Gravel was welcome to compete for the party’s nomination, noting that the only requirements for running were meeting the constitutional requirements for the presidency, being a member of the party and being willing to accept its nomination. But he said that Gravel might face a tough sell on some issues — while the party’s membership agrees with his stances against the war in Iraq and the military draft, among other issues, it differs with his stances in favor of universal health care and higher spending on public education.

“He has some libertarian inclinations, but there’s still a lot of issues that he doesn’t fall into step that perfectly with the platform on,” Davis said. “We’re hoping once he can become acquainted and see what the party’s all about, he can adjust his views.”

There are currently 15 candidates competing for the nomination, which will be decided by the roughly 1,000 delegates expected in Denver, who will be partly guided by the results of primaries and straw polls held in some states. The elephant in the room, so to speak, is whether Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who has run for president on the Libertarian ticket in the past, will drop his bid for the Republican nomination and take his legions of loyal supporters back into the Libertarian fold for a third-party run in November. Paul this week reiterated that he has no intention of doing that.

But still, one can dream. A Paul-Gravel ticket? “That would be interesting, no doubt,” said Davis.

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