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As voters suffer presidential election deja vu, Chase Oliver wants to be another option

In this file photo from 2022, Libertarian Chase Oliver, then a candidate for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat, listens during a debate in Atlanta, Ga. The Libertarian Party nominated party activist Oliver for president as the party's candidate in the 2024 election, rejecting former President Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after they each spoke at the party's convention. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)
Ben Gray
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AP
In this file photo from 2022, Libertarian Chase Oliver, then a candidate for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat, listens during a debate in Atlanta, Ga. The Libertarian Party nominated party activist Oliver for president as the party's candidate in the 2024 election, rejecting former President Donald Trump and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. after they each spoke at the party's convention. (AP Photo/Ben Gray, File)

PORTLAND, Maine – For voters who aren't excited about a rematch between President Biden and former President Donald Trump, Libertarian presidential nominee Chase Oliver’s pitch is strikingly simple.

“I'm under the age of 80, I speak in complete sentences, I'm not a convicted felon,” he says on the campaign trail. “It's a very low bar, but I've managed to clear that.”

Oliver is 39, an anti-war activist and the new public face of the Libertarian Party, the country’s third largest political party — and one that could influence who wins the White House in November.

He’s not going to win the election, but that’s not his only measure of success. Getting the party more media attention, better ballot access and more Libertarian candidates into local office is also on the docket.

“There are concrete things we can do to build our party foundation up that don't require us to win the White House this November,” Oliver said. “And I think a lot of those things, if done correctly, will be seen as a victory in my eyes and a victory in the eyes of libertarians across the country.”

In the aftermath of the chaotic Libertarian Party national convention where Oliver eventually secured the party’s nomination after seven rounds of voting (winning with 60.6% against 36.6% for “none of the above”), his campaign schedule has seen travel across the country to boost his own name recognition and that of the party.

Libertarian presidential nominee Chase Oliver wants to grow the party's base of support, but is facing backlash from a reactionary wing of the party over differing social and cultural views.
Stephen Fowler, NPR. /
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Libertarian presidential nominee Chase Oliver wants to grow the party's base of support, but is facing backlash from a reactionary wing of the party over differing social and cultural views.

At a low-key campaign kickoff at a brewery east of Atlanta, Oliver told friends, family and running mate Mike ter Maat that he believes the Libertarian Party can reach a younger generation disillusioned with the current status of America.

“One of the things I’ve heard most is, ‘I became a libertarian when I was a young person,’” he said. “Right now, there are 40 million-plus Gen Z voters who are ready to hear a message outside the two-party system.”

As a millennial politician, Chase Oliver has a different energy on the campaign trail than the buttoned-up Biden or meandering Trump, and is quite vocal about his ideas of what liberty means in theory and in practice.

“Broadly speaking, liberty means the right and the ability to live your own life as you see fit, in peace,” he said. “If you're not harming someone with force, fraud, coercion, theft or violence, if you're not doing any of those bad things, your life is your life. Your body is your body. Your business is your business, and your property is your property. It's not mine, and it's not the government's.”

In this 2022 photo, Libertarian challenger Chase Oliver, left, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., participate in a U.S. Senate debate in Atlanta on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Republican challenger Herschel Walker was invited but did not attend. Oliver's candidacy in the race is largely responsible for forcing the two leading candidates, Warnock and Walker, to a runoff.
Ben Gray / AP
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AP
In this 2022 photo, Libertarian challenger Chase Oliver, left, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., participate in a U.S. Senate debate in Atlanta on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2022. Republican challenger Herschel Walker was invited but did not attend. Oliver's candidacy in the race is largely responsible for forcing the two leading candidates, Warnock and Walker, to a runoff.

Oftentimes, libertarians are seen as spoiler candidates in close races - including Oliver himself, who ran for Georgia’s U.S. Senate seat in 2022 and helped force incumbent Democrat Raphael Warnock into a runoff against Republican Herschel Walker.

Still, Oliver wants the party to grow up, and grow into something that’s appealing to a larger swathe of people.

“It’s a golden opportunity with Donald Trump versus Joe Biden 2.0, voters are looking for something different, and in particular, they're looking for younger voices to rise up and really start speaking up in our political system,” he said.

But the Libertarian Party is having an identity crisis, exacerbated by Oliver’s own identity.

Differing visions on the party’s future

Oliver is gay, and his support for gay rights — including issues that affect transgender people — has widened an existing rift within the party.

“I don't run as just the gay candidate, but it is certainly a part of my identity,” he said. “It's something I am not ashamed of being. I'm proud of being who I am and living as my authentic self, and so I'm just hoping to inspire other people to live as their authentic selves.”

Chase Oliver is gay, and his support for LGBT rights has led several state parties to oppose his selection as the Libertarian presidential nominee.
Stephen Fowler, NPR. /
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Chase Oliver is gay, and his support for LGBT rights has led several state parties to oppose his selection as the Libertarian presidential nominee.

At the Portland, Maine pride festival earlier this month, Oliver took breaks from waving an American flag bedecked in marijuana leaves and rainbow stripes to hand out campaign literature, practice his stump speech and shoot the breeze on ballot access with a canvasser for a rival campaign.

“So Maine and Alaska are two states where people don’t have to fear the spoiler effect,” he said. “One of the reasons why I'm here in Maine and one of the reasons why I want to be going up to Alaska is to let voters know, ‘Hey, you can put me first and don't worry about it, you put your lesser of two evils next.'”

But some in the party see Oliver's viewpoints and selection as the nominee as the greater evil.

Oliver is a more traditional libertarian aligned with the Classical Liberal caucus, as it's known. There’s a growing wing of the party — the Mises Caucus — that has decidedly non-Libertarian views on social and cultural issues.

The Mises Caucus is a more hardline, edgy and sometimes inflammatory take on libertarianism that is more compatible with the Republican Party under Trump — which is partly why the former president spoke at the party’s convention this year.

Trump suggested the Libertarian Party back his campaign, instead.

“You know, only [back me] if you want to win,” he said to boos and jeers from the audience. “If you want to lose, don't do that. Keep getting your 3% every four years.”

Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump salutes to the audience after addressing the Libertarian Party National Convention on May 25 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Former President and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump salutes to the audience after addressing the Libertarian Party National Convention on May 25 in Washington, D.C.

Backing Oliver to help Trump

Historically, Libertarian candidates have pulled more voters from Republican candidates, though this time some are explicitly seeking the opposite.

That includes Libertarian Party Chair Angela McArdle, who has said explicitly she endorses Chase Oliver as a vehicle for Trump’s victory.

“Donald Trump said he's going to put a libertarian in a cabinet position,” she said in a recent social media livestream. “He came out and spoke to us. He said he's a libertarian. He has basically endorsed us. And so in return, I endorse Chase Oliver as the best way to beat Joe Biden."

She quipped: "Get in, loser. We are stopping Biden.”

Oliver remains an optimist, and amidst the vitriol is still convinced there’s a pathway to reconciliation over a shared view of liberty.

He dismissed some of the homophobia and opposition to his campaign as “loud voices” in the Libertarian Party who aren’t representative of the party’s voters as a whole.

Oliver also declined to speak ill of the Mises Caucus or their beliefs.

“Honestly, I'm hoping to heal the divide in the party so that we can have more of them involved in this process of this campaign,” he said contemplatively. “I will continue to extend my hand, even if some people might want to smack it away. And I have to continue that work to try to heal the divide within our party.”

So far, four state parties have publicly denounced Oliver’s nomination to differing degrees: Montana, Colorado, New Hampshire and Idaho. In the swing states that will decide the election, though, and where margins really matter, he’s their guy.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.
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