Jeffrey Carson, the 8th district’s Libertarian candidate, has an unconventional campaign. From a focus on social media over television to the choice to meet for interviews at Arlington’s First Down Sports Bar, Carson has found that he can’t follow the preset election paths. His only option was to make his own. In the heavily Democratic district, Carson’s fight won’t be an easy one, and one he can’t run the way his opponents do.
“We’ve got to play an unconventional game,” said Carson. “If we go to bat thinking ‘we have to do what Micah Edmond and Don Beyer are doing’, we’ve already lost.”
Carson knew from the outset that the campaign was going to be an uphill battle. Carson’s inspiration for the campaign, Robert Sarvis, lost his 2011 Virginia State Senate campaign, his 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign and faces a difficult election in the 2014 Senate campaign. It was Sarvis’ 2013 gubernatorial campaign that inspired Carson to get involved with the Libertarian party and run for office.
“I like being the underdog here, it suits me,” said Carson. “The vast majority of people I talk to … as long as they’re not hardcore Democrats or Republicans, after 10 minutes they are generally very supportive. The problem is to reach all of them.”
This is where campaign financing becomes troublesome. According to Carson, while campaign financing was pushed forward in the guise of helping third party candidates, it is generally more hurtful.
“Campaign finance reform meant to screw third party candidates,” said Carson. “There’s no way I have the rolodex Beyer or the Republicans have, and so there’s no way I can compete. It’s counterintuitive, but it’s the truth.”
While elections tend to favor candidates who spend more, David Brat’s victory in the 7th congressional district Republican primary over incumbent Eric Cantor has inspired potential dark horse candidates like Carson and other independents. The biggest problem, says Carson, is that too many people stay at home and don’t engage in the process. Carson understands this point of view all too well, as he used to avoid voting.
“I was trying to make a statement by not legitimizing the process, and I thought that was a good way to send a message,” said Carson. “In hindsight I realized that’s not the best approach to trying to change.”
Carson was a frustrated citizen long before he was a Libertarian candidate. Carson says he bought three Obama t-shirts early in the candidate’s run for office, saying he finally felt empowered by a message that promised to curtail the interventionist foreign policy and restrain the War on Drugs, but once Obama became President it was clear that there weren’t a lot of differences between him and previous presidents.
“It was very disillusioning,” said Carson. “Very disheartening.”
After four years of service in the U.S. Army, Carson left to travel across Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Australia. Carson returned to the United States during the financial crisis and was disappointed with what he saw in American politics.
Others in Carson’s campaign shared his unhappiness with the modern two-party system.
“I campaigned a lot when I was younger and I really strongly believed in things, but it seems like so much hot air that I never really wanted to get involved,” said Vera Medici, Carson’s social media coordinator. “It’s nice to be involved again.”
“My least favorite part of the campaign is the failure of the Democratic Party nominee to regularly engage in debates or forums with the other candidates,” said Mat Thexton, Carson’s volunteer coordinator, referencing Democratic candidate Don Beyer’s absence from events like the previous week’s Urban League Young Professionals Network forum. “He is assuming the voters will vote Democrat, without even knowing his positions.”
Medici described the campaign staff as almost evenly split between Libertarians and people who just don’t identify with either political party, but says that while they occasionally discuss politics while working at events, their focus on the campaign has kept infighting away.
“I’m not a Libertarian, but I listened to him,” said Medici. She met when he was campaigning at a Farmer’s Market. “I went home and looked at his website, because I didn’t want to dismiss someone because of their political ideology.
Medici said she was impressed with his military and travel experience, but it was his lack of connections with the political establishment that won her over.
“He won’t be pressured to be pushed into a party line,” said Medici, adding that this could help distance him. “We can’t have corporations taking over but not so much restriction that it’s over-regulated.”
Carson is upfront about his slim chances, but says he and too many of America’s undecided middle have sat on the sidelines for too long.
“Everybody has one good fight they need to take on,” said Carson. “This felt right. This felt like what I needed to be doing.”