Tom Nash has a piece in this week's Style Weekly about Mike Dickinson, the oddball VCU-grad and strip club owner who is "running" for Congress. Dickinson is not much more than a social media presence, gaining some notoriety for sparring with Fox News hosts in the spring and, more recently, putting a bounty out for nude pics of teen hunter Kendal Jones.
Dickinson seems to be enjoying himself, so good for him. But he's causing problems for other candidates in the race: certainly James Carr, and possibly even Jack Trammell.
Nash's article rightly suggests that Dave Brat's stunning primary win has opened the door to opportunists like Dickinson and Tareq Salihi. (And I say "rightly" because I agree, and not just because he quotes my department chair on the subject.) They may not believe they can win, but they're correct to think that they can at least gain some attention (as the Style Weekly article on Dickinson already proves).
But libertarian James Carr is not a write-in candidate; he's actually on the ballot. Articles like Nash's, that suggest that the VA-7 race is now "a magnet for alternative choices," have the effect of lumping Carr in with Dickinson and Salihi, even while Carr denies the connection. As Nash writes:
The Libertarian, Carr, doesn't consider [Dickinson] a serious candidate, and doesn't want to see him treated as one. "Absolutely not," Carr says. "Anyone who qualifies for the ballot, I'd say that's appropriate. I put in six months of door-to-door work."
No kidding. Carr wants to be seen as one of three guys on the ballot, not one of a bunch of fringe challengers to the two major party candidates.
I used to live in New York State, where electoral fusion rules allow third parties to flourish (at least relative to other states). I especially remember the 2002 election, where incumbent Governor George Pataki was facing Democrat Carl McCall. The debates before the election featured not just the two major party candidates, but also FIVE third-party candidates! This was great for democratic politics, and actually exciting to watch. At the same time, it was a strategic victory for Pataki. Rather than a debate between the two major challengers, the optics of the debate depicted the Governor and a bunch of challengers. By appearing with the non-serious, third party candidates, Democrat McCall looked like just one more wanna-be.
And that's the problem that write-in candidates like Dickinson pose for Libertarian Carr in Virginia. Carr wants to be taken seriously, but he gets lumped in with reality stars and Twitter campaigns. This could even be a problem for Trammell, although his significant fundraising totals and his stiff-but-serviceable appearance on MSNBC this week suggest he will be taken more seriously.
The bottom line: fans of more inclusive politics should be happy, but that inclusion comes at a cost for the most serious challenger.