ATLANTA - Chase Oliver seems pretty chill for a guy who may have just thrown the entire U.S. Senate election into chaos for a month.
The 37-year-old Libertarian Party candidate ran his campaign from his basement in the suburbs of Atlanta, in a headquarters bedecked with signed Star Trek actor portraits, Harry Potter memorabilia, and a gay pride flag decorated with a pot leaf above a rowing machine. In his spare time, he’s a science fiction and fantasy enthusiast, who named one of his three cats after the infamous Game of Thrones command for destructive dragon fire: “Dracarys.”
Yes, he knows a lot of people are now frustrated that, by scoring 2 percent of the Senate vote in Georgia, he may have just kept Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock or GOP candidate Herschel Walker from the 50 percent threshold needed to win, forcing a runoff on Dec. 6. Because Senate control now hangs on three uncalled toss-up states—Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada—the runoff he helped cause could be the whole shebang.
For Oliver, who supports gun rights, legal weed, access to abortion, and immigration reform—and who detests America’s two-party duopoly—this runoff smells like sweet success.
“I knew when I started this campaign, I wanted to force a runoff to force these issues, and I think I succeeded,” Oliver told VICE News in an interview on Wednesday morning, as votes were still being counted. “Could I have done better? Absolutely. But I think I did very well, all things considered.”
It’s hard to overstate how outgunned Oliver’s DIY campaign was, considering its tectonic impact. His mainstream opponents spent almost a quarter-billion dollars blanketing Georgia’s airwaves with attack ads and driving their supporters to the polls. Millions of dollars flooded their accounts from New York, California, Texas, and Florida.
Oliver campaigned while working two jobs from home, as a sales account executive for a financial services firm and an HR rep for a security company.
“I spent like $10,000 on some signs and door-knocking materials, and gas on the car, and food for canvassers,” Oliver said. “I rode around in my beat-up Corolla getting 30 miles to the gallon, because it’s economical. Fiscally conservative, I guess.”
Asked whether he just upended the entire Senate election from his basement for less than the price of a used car, Oliver casually agreed.
“Yeah, you could say that,” he said. “And, good on me, I guess. You, too, can do this.”
Oliver racked up over 81,000 votes, according to the official tally. That’s more than twice the gap between the two main candidates. Warnock led on Wednesday afternoon with about 1,941,000 votes, compared to roughly 1,906,000 for Walker.
That wafer-thin margin means Oliver’s supporters could swing the runoff, too, if they all get behind one candidate. Their choice will be Warnock, a pastor at the church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached; or Walker, a football star with a stormy personal life, endorsed by former President Donald Trump.
Oliver, who said he’s proud of being Georgia’s first statewide LGBTQ candidate, now plans to get involved in the runoff as an activist. He doesn’t expect to endorse anyone. He wants to hold a forum with each candidate and a moderator, to draw out where they stand on issues that libertarian voters care about.
Walker and Warnock failed to get over the 50 percent threshold because they failed to address libertarian issues, said Oliver.
“They ignored the people who voted for me and they ignored the issues I support,” he said. “You can’t blame a candidate for just being an option on the ballot.”
Those issues include balancing the budget to contain inflation, and ending the war on drugs, which Oliver said has caused more violence than it has prevented.
He’s gotten a lot of flack about the runoff, from both sides of the aisle. But his solution isn’t for third-party candidates to sit out elections. Rather, he thinks the result demonstrates the need for ranked-choice voting.
“If we’d had ranked-choice voting in yesterday’s election, we’d already know who the next senator is going to be, and we wouldn’t have to wait weeks, spend millions of dollars of taxpayer money, and watch millions and millions of dollars [worth] of political ads that nobody wants to see anymore,” Oliver said.
But that, of course, is what’s now about to happen—and not for the first time.
Georgia now appears set to repeat the dynamic from the 2020 race, in which two Senate races both went to runoffs that determined control of the Senate. Both Democrats won, reinforcing conventional wisdom that Democrats hold an advantage turning out their voters in Peach State runoffs.
That means Georgia will have to endure more weeks of attack ads flooding their TV and radio programming. Plenty of voters here say they’re weary of the non-stop electioneering, now that their state has been thrust into the white-hot center of American politics as the ultimate Southern swing state.
On Wednesday afternoon, in an Atlanta saloon-style bar not far from Oliver’s home, Molly, a 52-year-old waitress, bemoaned the upcoming runoff election. Asked what she thinks about Oliver, she smiled.
“Oh, he’s nice,” she said. “He comes in here all the time.”
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