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Forum Editorial: Libertarian vote shifts from GOP

Only Republicans wearing the rosiest of rose-colored glasses are blissfully unaware of the trouble their party faces Nov. 7. Only partisans whose blinders give them false comfort don't get it.

Only Republicans wearing the rosiest of rose-colored glasses are blissfully unaware of the trouble their party faces Nov. 7. Only partisans whose blinders give them false comfort don't get it.

It's not just about the major shift of independent voters and moderate Republicans. It's also about the deep disappointment afflicting the Christian right, which, until now, was little more than a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. Evangelicals most likely won't vote for Democrats; but they won't mobilize to help Republicans because of the Mark Foley scandal and recent revelations that White House staffers characterized leaders of the Christian right in less-than-flattering ways.

But it's at the edges of Republican support where elections will be won or lost. While polls indicate significant defections of traditional Republican constituencies, a new study from the Cato Institute suggests libertarians have abandoned the GOP. At approximately 13 percent of the electorate, the libertarian vote can swing close elections. And in this election, Republican incumbents in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate find themselves in very close contests.

The libertarian study is instructive. Until 2002, the libertarian vote was solidly in the Republican camp. That year just 15 percent of libertarians voted for a Democrat for the Senate. By 2004, 43 percent did - a whopping 287 percent increase in two years. The change in House races in favor of Democrats during the same period was 23 percent to 44 percent. The Cato study suggests the trend away from Republicans has continued - and possibly accelerated - into 2006.

The study's authors conclude this: Libertarians "have become disillusioned with Republican overspending, social intolerance, civil liberties infringements and the floundering war in Iraq - and will likely abandon the GOP for the first time in generations."

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Libertarians tend to agree with conservatives on economic issues and with liberals on personal freedom, and have been reliable supporters of Republicans. A September Gallup Poll found 21 percent of voters identify themselves as libertarians (as many as pure liberals), so the libertarian defection from Republican candidates will have an impact on Election Day.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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