The Libertarian Policeman Who Could Upend Kentucky’s Senate Race

David Patterson is not on the ballot, but in one of the nation’s tightest and most closely-watched contests, he garnered 7 percent in a poll this week.

National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
Shane Goldmacher
July 31, 2014, 5:35 p.m.

(Dav­id­Pat­ter­son4Sen­ate2014/Face­book)

HAR­RODS­BURG, Ky. — Dav­id Pat­ter­son is driv­ing around the small town he patrols as a cop, when he veers off a main road in­to a small lot in front of a build­ing labeled “GUNS.” He slows the car to a roll as he points out one of the few yard signs any­where in Ken­tucky with his name on it.

“In front of the gun shop,” he chuckles. “Of course.”

The sign it­self is the ob­lig­at­ory red, white, and blue, and with mini­ature stars and text so small it al­most re­quires a squint to read. Be­low his name is the of­fice Pat­ter­son seeks: the United States Sen­ate.

Pat­ter­son is off-duty and in shorts and sneak­ers, but there’s still a hand­gun holstered to his hip. It presses vis­ibly against his tee shirt. “I’m a big Second Amend­ment guy,” he says.

Dav­id Pat­ter­son is un­likely to be the next sen­at­or from Ken­tucky. He has little money, next to no cam­paign in­fra­struc­ture, and is try­ing to take on Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell and his well-fun­ded Demo­crat­ic chal­lenger, Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes. But his shoes­tring Liber­tari­an can­did­acy could still shake up one of the na­tion’s most ex­pens­ive and con­sequen­tial races.

Pat­ter­son is more than a little aware that be­ing a liber­tari­an cop — “kind of an oxy­mor­on, right?” he says — is un­usu­al. The first thing he tells me when we meet in Har­rods­burg is that he prefers the term “peace” of­ficer to “po­lice” of­ficer. “Po­lice is really syn­onym­ous with…” he says be­fore cut­ting him­self off. “Well, it’s got a neg­at­ive tone to it.”

He jay­walks twice across one of Har­rods­burg’s busier thor­ough­fares in the course of a 20-minute walk, as he ex­plains the ad­vant­ages of liber­tari­an poli­cing. “Wouldn’t it be bet­ter to have a po­lice of­ficer who’s a liber­tari­an than a po­lice of­ficer that’s not?” he says. For in­stance, Pat­ter­son says he’s less likely than some to dish out a speed­ing tick­et, so long as the of­fend­er isn’t drink­ing or clearly en­dan­ger­ing the pub­lic. “Wouldn’t you rather not get a $200-and-something tick­et?”

“I try really hard in my work to not cite people,” he says, be­fore adding, “Does that mean I don’t write tick­ets? No. I still write tick­ets.”

In the com­ing weeks, Pat­ter­son must turn in 5,000 sig­na­tures to get on the Novem­ber bal­lot. He and Liber­tari­an Party of­fi­cials are con­fid­ent they’ll hit the mark. They’ve raised enough money that, as of two weeks ago, they began de­ploy­ing paid sig­na­ture-gather­ers.

Bey­ond that, Pat­ter­son’s got a Face­book page, 40 lawn signs, 100 bump­er stick­ers, a web­site, and that’s about it. “It may not be the most pro­fes­sion­al look­ing thing, but when you have people who are will­ing to do it for free, you don’t get all the bells and whistles,” he says of dav­id4sen­ate.com. What little he cam­paigns, he does between shifts in his full-time job as a cop. “I try to an­swer emails and phone calls when I can,” he says, though he ad­mits he’s stopped check­ing voice mails.

Non­ethe­less, Pat­ter­son pulled 7 per­cent sup­port in a Bluegrass Poll re­leased this week. Third-party can­did­ates of­ten fare best in races that are bru­tal and neg­at­ive, as Ken­tucky’s Sen­ate race has been and is ex­pec­ted to re­main. In 2013, a Liber­tari­an in Vir­gin­ia’s sharply neg­at­ive gov­ernor’s race garnered more than 6 per­cent of the vote. “Let’s call it what it is. It’s kind of ju­ven­ile,” Pat­ter­son said of the Mc­Con­nell-Grimes race. “I’m an adult. I don’t want to see them go back and forth.”

The big ques­tion — bey­ond wheth­er Pat­ter­son can, in fact, turn in 5,000 val­id sig­na­tures — is wheth­er his pres­ence ex­pands the pool of voters or si­phons away oth­er­wise luke­warm Mc­Con­nell sup­port­ers. The Mc­Con­nell-Grimes con­test is with­in the mar­gin of er­ror in re­cent polls. And most polit­ic­al strategists be­lieve Liber­tari­an can­did­ates are far more likely to draw sup­port from tra­di­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an voters than Demo­crat­ic ones.

“We’re not tak­ing — we hate that term — we’re not tak­ing, we’re earn­ing,” says Ken Moell­man, chair­man of the Ken­tucky Liber­tari­an Party. He noted that the mar­gin of Mc­Con­nell’s lead — 2 per­cent­age points — was the same with Pat­ter­son in and out of the race in this week’s Bluegrass Poll.

Moell­man is es­pe­cially fa­mil­i­ar with the vote-steal­ing charge. In 2011, he ran for Ken­tucky state treas­urer as a Liber­tari­an and re­ceived 37,261 votes — more than double the mar­gin of the Demo­crat­ic can­did­ate’s vic­tory. “Our goal is not to split the vote,” he says, “it’s not to dork around with the elec­tion.”

Born in Louis­ville in 1971, Pat­ter­son has been do­ing po­lice work since 1996. The hair on his shaved head is thin­ning, but he still sports a boy­ish look. Mar­ried with two kids from two pre­vi­ous mar­riages, Pat­ter­son says he in­her­ited his fath­er’s polit­ic­al party and “blindly voted Re­pub­lic­an down the board” un­til 2012.

That year, he took a lik­ing to liber­tari­an-lean­ing GOP pres­id­en­tial can­did­ate Ron Paul and then soured on the Re­pub­lic­an Party when Paul was pushed aside. He searched for al­tern­at­ive parties on­line and soon began at­tend­ing loc­al Liber­tari­an meet­ings. When no one vo­lun­teered to run for Sen­ate this year, he took up the mantle him­self. (As for Ron’s son, Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, en­dors­ing Mc­Con­nell, Pat­ter­son says, “He’s play­ing the game.”)

“I think it’s im­port­ant for Liber­tari­ans to have someone run­ning against Mitch Mc­Con­nell,” says Wes Be­ne­dict, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the na­tion­al Liber­tari­an Party, which has kicked $7,000 in­to the bal­lot drive, ac­cord­ing to Moell­man. “For a Liber­tari­an, there’s only one way to de­scribe Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s vot­ing re­cord and that word is ‘ugly.’ “

Still, Be­ne­dict is ready­ing for the blow­back and ac­cus­a­tions of vote si­phon­ing. “I’ll start get­ting hate mail be­fore long,” he pre­dicts.

This Sat­urday, Pat­ter­son will make one of his biggest ap­pear­ances yet at Fancy Farm in far west­ern Ken­tucky, an event that marks the tra­di­tion­al kick­off of the fall cam­paign. Not that he was in­vited or has a speak­ing slot. “We’re go­ing to stand around out in the park­ing lot, I guess,” he says.

Some fringe can­did­ates try to end up in hand­cuffs at such events to lure TV cam­er­as that would oth­er­wise ig­nore them. “I’m def­in­itely not go­ing to do any­thing to get ar­res­ted,” Pat­ter­son says. He fully ex­pects to be ig­nored by Mc­Con­nell and Grimes. “They do not want to give me cred­ib­il­ity be­cause I’m dan­ger­ous enough as it is.”

Pat­ter­son will be driv­ing him­self more than 500 miles round-trip, in­clud­ing de­tour­ing through three oth­er towns to pick up and car­pool sup­port­ers there. (He ex­pects a total of 25-30 people to join him.) Then, he’ll turn around and drive back to Har­rods­burg the same day to save money on a hotel. Such is life on a cam­paign that’s scrapped to­geth­er $1,500. (The state Liber­tari­an Party has raised money sep­ar­ately for the bal­lot drive.)

Pat­ter­son still hopes to win, even if he’s real­ist­ic when pressed about his chances: “I’d really like to hit the 15 per­cent mark.”

“Would I make a good sen­at­or? I don’t know. I have no idea,” he says. “But I know that I would fol­low the Con­sti­tu­tion, and that’s something that’s been lack­ing.”

What We're Following See More »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login