After shocking Libertarians across the country by announcing his intent to run for US Senate as a Republican, former Libertarian presidential candidate Austin Petersen finished 3rd in Tuesday’s primary, having been abysmally outperformed by current Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley. Petersen received 8.3% of the vote, more than 50% behind Hawley and 1.5% behind rival Tony Monetti. This year’s GOP primary included eleven candidates, a fact that certainly didn’t help The Libertarian Republic founder’s chances as over 155,000 votes went to the eight other candidates behind him.
Petersen released a statement via social media:
“Sorry I couldn’t pull out a win for us, friends. My faults as a candidate are my own, and not the fault of our activists. I am not a perfect messenger. One day soon I believe we will see more leaders who rise up and fight for our cause more fiercely and more successfully than I. I hope you’ve been inspired by our campaign to get involved and to take our country back for the principles of liberty. Thank you, and the revolution continues!”
A lengthy, emotional concession speech was also broadcasted via Petersen’s public Facebook page where his campaign manager, Jeff Carson, exclaimed during the introduction “To the bad guys: watch out, we’re not done. We’re just getting started. Can’t stop, won’t stop and you’re going to have to deal with us for a long time.”
“Liberty isn’t popular in the GOP, but what’s right isn’t always popular, and what’s popular isn’t always right,” stated Petersen, continuing “We knew we were facing a mountain higher than Kilimanjaro. But we knew it was the right thing to do because the liberty movement, unfortunately, is on the retreat in this country. We are on the defense.” Petersen’s summation was marked with optimistic hope for the future.
Petersen’s campaign had focused on hypocritical statements made by Josh Hawley, including Hawley’s criticism of “career politicians just climbing the ladder;” a puzzling criticism for an Attorney General running for United States Senate before his term is complete. Hawley also refused to attend debates that had been set up between the other GOP candidates, for which Petersen called the Attorney General “chicken” in a campaign ad (featuring Petersen with a live chicken).
He also criticized Hawley for not sufficiently defending Missouri Governor Eric Greitens during his multiple scandals (including a sex scandal and concerns regarding the potential erasure of official government communications), claiming “Hawley threw our duly elected governor under the bus before due process could be afforded. If Hawley is the next senator from Missouri, Mr. President, I have just one bit of advice… watch your back.”
Petersen himself is no ladder-climber. Before his days of political candidacy, Petersen was a producer at Fox News, specifically for Andrew Napolitano, a judge who is quite popular in most libertarian circles. A Missouri native, Petersen founded libertarian website The Libertarian Republic before going on to announce his high-office candidacy for President on the Libertarian Party ticket; a campaign that Petersen heavily focused on the shortcomings of his primary opponent, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, but ultimately resulted in Petersen endorsing Johnson upon his defeat at the 2014 Libertarian National Convention in Orlando. Johnson’s resulting campaign went on to set the current vote record for the LP.
The colors of Petersen’s political affiliation did not change lightly. Petersen has remarked that the decision to defect to the Republican Party “was not an easy decision – It was not.” Libertarians are typically not advocates of political loyalty, and this seems to hold true to the ongoing saga of Austin Petersen. For a party defector, he still finds admiration from his former colleagues in the Libertarian Party. The Missouri Libertarian Party candidate Japheth Campbell had encouraged his supporters to vote for Petersen in the Republican primary. Campbell accused Hawley of being a RINO (Republican In Name Only) and compared candidates Tony Monetti and Courtland Sykes to Todd Akin, who McCaskill beat by over 400,000 votes in 2012, calling them “counterproductive to my goal of defeating McCaskill.”
Campbell’s line of thinking is not atypical of Libertarian Party strategy. The Missouri Libertarian stated “Austin Petersen may not be the perfect libertarian in the eyes of many within the LP, but he is the best libertarian option Missouri has outside our party. His focus like mine is on defeating Claire McCaskill, not bickering with one another which does no good for either campaign. There are voters he can gain from McCaskill that will never vote LP, but there are also voters I can gain from her that will never vote GOP,”
Petersen’s Senate campaign may have produced only negligible national exposure, but was closely watched by Libertarians around the country who at one time rallied behind him in his race to run for President of the United States. By remaining in the spotlight, he remains on our minds. For certain, his story does not end at this chapter; libertarians across the country anxiously await his predictably unpredictable next move.