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Monday, November 5, 2012

Third-party candidates hope to change the tone of politics, though struggle for attention

At the state and federal level, the gap between Republicans and Democrats has never been wider, say many voters, lawmakers and candidates from both parties.

In New Hampshire, at least, a group of third party candidates is hoping to help lawmakers find the middle ground. ...

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At the state and federal level, the gap between Republicans and Democrats has never been wider, say many voters, lawmakers and candidates from both parties.

In New Hampshire, at least, a group of third party candidates is hoping to help lawmakers find the middle ground.

Like past years, the Libertarian Party is running a slate of candidates at the state, local and national level. It is hoping to break up the traditional two-party system its members say has run and corrupted American politics.

“People are really frustrated with the system as it is. I think they’re looking for something different,” said Rich Tomasso, chairman of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party, who is running for state Senate in Manchester.

This year, another group of disaffected voters is looking, as well, to return civility and moderation to the legislative process at the state level.

Former state Rep. Cynthia Dokmo, who represented Amherst for eight terms as a Repubilcan, has joined former Amherst Selectman Bob Heaton to run as independents under the newly formed “Restore the Center” movement.

The movement was established by Dokmo and Paul Spiess, another former legislator. It is intended to get independent-thinking lawmakers to look beyond their differences and work together to solve the state’s issues.

“Right now, we have such a partisan divide, neither party will acknowledge the other one’s contributions, and nothing’s getting done,” said Dokmo, who served 16 years in Concord until she was voted out in 2010.

“Hopefully, we can become meaningful and that will require people to start talking about issues and trying to find moderate solutions,” added Heaton, who has never served in the Legislature. “Right now, it’s just being dictated from one fringe or the other.”

Politically speaking, the two groups don’t have much in common.

The Libertarian Party is looking to bring a stronger voice to the principles of small government and low taxes both in Concord and Washington.

The rise in recent years of the tea party wing of the Republican Party brought renewed attention and support to Libertarian fiscal stances, candidates said.

“We definitely have agreeing points,” said Brendan Kelly, a Seabrook selectman who is running for Congress in the 1st District.

As it moved beyond fiscal issues, the tea party sided more with conservative Republicans on social issues of abortion and same-sex marriage, among others.

“The tea party has really been co-opted by the Republicans,” said John Babiarz, of Grafton, who is running as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for governor. “It started out as a fiscal thing. It stood for Taxed Enough Already. But, then the Republicans took over and took it in a different direction.”

Contrasting with the Libertarian Party, members of the Restore the Center movement don’t hold defining political principles.

As independents, some members may be centrist Democrats, and others may be moderate Repubilcans, Dokmo and Heaton said.

Despite their differences, the candidates are joined by their belief in open dialogue and compromise.

On the campaign trail, the candidates have heard from a number of legislators, both current and former, looking to join the effort, they said.

Many lawmakers from both parties have grown frustrated by the partisan tone struck by the current Republican leadership, as well as the prior Democratic leaders, and they are hopeful the next group of lawmakers will be able to work better together.

“Our hope is that we can get 20-30 people that really do want to moderate things and they can push critical legislation, so it won’t all be directed from one party or the other,” Heaton said. “There’s a large middle block of voters that can make a difference in key issues.”

Despite their differences, the Libertarians and the Restore the Center movement share one thing in common: their struggle for exposure.

Without the backing of the state Democratic or Republican parties, Dokmo and Heaton are left to campaign solely for themselves, and as voters head to the polls, the candidates fear they will vote based on the party affiliation more than political views,

“People aren’t used to looking outside of that column for people,” Dokmo said. “They want (to be open minded), but it doesn’t necessarily mean they vote that way.”

Meanwhile, the Libertarian candidates have once again not been invited to most of the major debates or campaign forums at either the gongressional or gubernatorial level.

“They say they have these criteria, but then they don’t tell you what it is,” said Hardy Macia, a Canterbury software writer who is running in the state’s 2nd Congressional District. “They really just don’t want us there.”

Even with the challenges, both groups are confident, as the election approaches, they are gaining influence.

To qualify the Libertarian Party for the 2014 election, Babiarz, the gubernatorial candidate, needs to reach 4 percent of the statewide vote. Even without reaching office, he believes Libertarian issues are becoming a part of the political debate.

“We influence policy by talking about the issues thtat everybody is afraid of,” Babiarz said. “School choice. Medical marijuana. Ten or 15 years ago, the major parties wouldn’t even touch those issues. Today, Republicans have embraced them.”

With help from the Restore the Center movement, candidates are hopeful that legislators from all parties will discuss them in the years to come.

“The nice thing about being an independent, I don’t have to be associated with a particular party platform,” Heaton said. “I can look at any issue solely on its own merits, not through a Republican lens or a Democratic lens.

“The ideals of Restore the Center are not political. They’re respect, discourse and common sense solutions,” he said. “Party affiliation isn’t one of the requirements.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or Also, follow Berry on Twitter (Telegraph_JakeB).