Libertarian Candidate Struggles to Gain Traction in Senate Race

Oct 10, 2018

Voters are about to choose a candidate for United States Senate. But the ballot has a name that you might not have heard before.

It’s early afternoon at Hayfield High School, and Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate Matt Waters is making his way to the Republican Club. It meets in a civics classroom on the second floor and a handful of conservative teenagers are on hand to hear Waters launch into a lesson about Thomas Paine’s interpretation of the Book of Samuel.

U.S. Senate candidate Matt Waters speaks to the Republican Club at Hayfield High School in Fairfax County.
Credit Michael Pope

“When the Israelites asked for a king, the warning to Samuel was 'hey no. Don’t do that.' The other nations have kings. The Israelites wanted a king. They said as soon as you put someone in power up there, they’re going to tax you and they’re going to send you off to war. You’re going to be a slave to the state,” Waters tells them.

This is not your typical Libertarian. In addition to being a statewide candidate, Waters is an experienced political consultant who also happens to have studied at seminary. Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says this sets him apart from a group sometimes associated with legalizing marijuana and prostitution.

“We always think of Libertarians as almost like the opposite of a religious person who doesn’t want government around but not for religious liberty reasons, just because they don’t think much government is needed,” Kidd argues.

Waters doesn’t think government is needed much. Take the income tax, for example. Waters wants to eliminate it. “Taxation is theft. We believe taxation is theft," he says. "And if I stop the robber from coming into my home, do I care how the robber makes a living? No. I really don’t care how the robber makes a living, as long as he’s not stealing my money. So it’s a philosophical argument.”

That philosophical argument applies across the issues. Guns, for example. “So do I have any limits on guns? Nope I don’t. Silencers? Nope, I don’t. Not at all. People think that’s radical. Maybe. But I think it’s in the Constitution.”

After the club disbanded for the afternoon, some of the Republican teenagers seemed impressed. One of them is 16-year-old Thomas Chute.

“He said some things today that a lot of people would think of as controversial: Get rid of the federal income tax or no limits on guns. What’s your reaction to that,” I ask.

“Oh, I think it’s radical that people think that’s a quote unquote radical idea because it should never have been the case," Chute responds. "It’s just that we were made to think that way from so many years of gridlocked politics and what our parents told us. We should start thinking for ourselves.”

The Republican Club at Hayfield High School might be impressed by Waters. But most of its members can’t vote. Among registered voters, Waters is polling at about 6 percent, according to a recent poll from the University of Mary Washington. And he’s only raised about $30,000 compared to the Republican in the race, who’s raised $1.4 million and the incumbent Democrat, who’s raised $20 million.

Kidd doubts he’ll be able to tap into Republican uneasiness about Corey Stewart. “A lot of Republicans who don’t want to vote for Corey Stewart and don’t have a competitive congressional race are going to sit out this election rather than vote for the Libertarian," Kidd says. "And I think it’s because the Libertarians haven’t been able to reach out to them effectively and enough.”

Waters has one thing going for him. He’s on the ballot at every precinct in Virginia. That’s no easy feat. But neither is getting a message out to voters accustomed to thinking about politics as red versus blue.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.