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Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News
Roger I. Price of Personal Choice Party attends a meet-the-candidates night in West Jordan. "I could maybe surprise people" with a victory, he says.

The candidate has no money for bumper stickers. But, anyway, what would they say? "Hatch for U.S. Senate"? Already taken. "Julian Hatch for U.S. Senate"? Won't that look like a misprint?

Like other third-party hopefuls, the Green Party candidate for Orrin Hatch's Senate seat is having some trouble getting noticed in the dwindling days of the 2006 election season. His is such a long-shot race, says Julian Hatch, that he has turned away contributions for fear of wasting someone else's money. Instead he has put in about $2,000 of his own funds, mostly for gas and food on the campaign trail. That's compared to $4.5 million raised by the other, more well-known Hatch.

Those are 2,205 to 1 odds, if money is any indication. Julian Hatch figures he has no hope of winning — but he's running anyway. He says he wants to give voters a choice and he wants to get a different set of ideas into the public discourse.

"Why do we even need an election in Utah? We could just coronate Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett," he says. "But the reason to have an election is to have some kind of debate" — although probably not an actual debate, since the incumbent has yet to share a campaign venue with his third-party challengers.

There are four third-party candidates (if four entities can all be considered the "third party") running for Orrin Hatch's seat. In addition to Julian Hatch of the Desert Greens Green Party of Utah, there is Scott Bradley of the Constitution Party, Roger I. Price of the Personal Choice party and Dave S. Seely of the Libertarian Party.

There are also seven third-party candidates running for Utah's three congressional seats: a Libertarian and a Constitutional party candidate in each district, and one Green Party candidate running against Rep. Jim Matheson.

More than a quarter of candidates for state offices this year aren't Republicans or Democrats, a total of 63 third-party candidates for 238 spots. Some, like 2nd Congressional District Green Party candidate Bob Brister and 1st Congressional District Constitution Party candidate Mark Hudson, have never run for public office before. Others are veterans: Ken Larsen is giving it a go for the 11th time since 1972, despite a long string of defeats, this time running for Utah Senate District 2.

Common causes

They are, by and large, an impassioned bunch, rarely equivocal, less likely to be lawyers, more colorful than their Democratic or Republican counterparts, more likely to quote Founding Fathers and the Bible, less likely to talk about roads than about freedom. The U.S. Constitution is a favorite topic, although each of the third parties has its own spin.

At a recent meet-the-candidates night at Daybreak in West Jordan, 3rd Congressional District Constitution Party candidate Jim Noorlander attacked illegal immigration, pornography and gay marriage as "symptoms of a disease, the disease of socialism." He has produced a DVD outlining his philosophy that America is a nation whose founding was favored by God and whose constitution is based on "eternal, gospel principles." Democracy, argues the Constitution Party, is the worst form of government, because the majority doesn't always follow God's laws.

Although most third-party candidates don't have deep pockets, they do have the Internet, and each congressional candidate has a Web site (although some are still "under construction."). Third Congressional District candidate Philip Hallman, at 27 the youngest candidate, is campaigning via MySpace.

A personal incident that Hallman describes as "police misconduct/abuse" propelled him to think about "the implications of state power" and to run for office as a Libertarian. For other candidates, the impetus to run was more incremental: as U.S. Senate Constitution Party candidate Scott Bradley says: "I asked myself, 'Are we closer to the 'foundational principles' (of the Founding Fathers) than we were 40 years ago or four years ago or four months ago?"'

Many of the third-party candidates were once Republicans or Democrats themselves, sometimes even serving in the local party hierarchy. Now they think the Republicans have veered to the left ("Yes, Orrin is a liberal," argues Libertarian Senate candidate Dave Seely); or, if they're Green party candidates, they complain that Utah Democrats might as well be Republicans.

Government interference and spending inflames Constitution and Libertarian candidates, as well as some Personal Choice candidates. (The Utah-based party is a little hard to categorize since it has no cohesive platform, instead welcoming all candidates and their platforms under the umbrella of its yellow smiley-face logo.)

Displeasure with America's role in Iraq is the one element that links all the third parties, from the archconservative Constitution Party to the liberal Greens. Most aren't fond of the U.S. Patriot Act either.

Harboring hope

Historically, third-party candidates in Utah have had some success. The Socialist party elected more than 100 Utahns to a variety of offices during the first two decades of statehood, according to Utah historian John Sillito. And the American Party had some success in the very early 1900s, campaigning against the influence of the LDS Church in Utah politics. Recent voting history, though, reveals an electorate fairly uninterested in third-party candidates. In 2004, for example, the Constitution and Personal Choice candidates for U.S. Senate and governor received less than 2 percent of the vote.

This year's candidates all harbor a hope that this is the year that enough Utah voters will be fed up with the status quo, even the status quo of the traditional challenger. "To continue to vote for the lesser of two evils in America today will lead to national suicide," says 2nd District Constitution Party candidate W. David Perry. His Green Party rival agrees: "I believe that to vote for the 'lesser of two evils' and to betray one's principles is to throw away one's vote."

Senate candidate Bradley tells people that "if there were divine intervention" he would win on Nov. 7. Personal Choice Senate candidate Price thinks if he can let enough people know what he stands for, "I could maybe surprise people" with a victory. Libertarian candidate Seely thinks "if the voters that usually do not vote, out of frustration or anger, would vote Libertarian, we could have a peaceful revolution." Julian Hatch doesn't think he himself has a prayer, although, as an agnostic, "prayer" is probably not the word he would use.

Third-party candidates generally don't win elections (although let's not forget Abraham Lincoln's win, says 1st Congressional District candidate Hudson of the Constitution Party). But they do "help make the existing parties rethink and shift what they are saying," says political science professor Shaun Bowler of the University of California Riverside, who has studied the ins and outs of third-party politics in America. "So, it may be a case of third parties losing the (electoral) battle but winning the war of ideas."

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com