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
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 »
WEST WING REDUX
Allison Janney Takes to the Real White House Podium
11 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Carolyn Kaster/AP

STAFF PICKS
When It Comes to Mining Asteroids, Technology Is Only the First Problem
12 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Obama Reflects on His Economic Record
13 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”

Source:
STAFF PICKS
Reagan Families, Allies Lash Out at Will Ferrell
14 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."

Source:
PEAK CONFIDENCE
Clinton No Longer Running Primary Ads
16 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-ex­pec­ted primary battle be­hind her, former Sec­ret­ary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton (D) is no longer go­ing on the air in up­com­ing primary states. “Team Clin­ton hasn’t spent a single cent in … Cali­for­nia, In­di­ana, Ken­tucky, Ore­gon and West Vir­gin­ia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “cam­paign has spent a little more than $1 mil­lion in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone back­er in the Sen­ate, said the can­did­ate should end his pres­id­en­tial cam­paign if he’s los­ing to Hil­lary Clin­ton after the primary sea­son con­cludes in June, break­ing sharply with the can­did­ate who is vow­ing to take his in­sur­gent bid to the party con­ven­tion in Phil­adelphia.”

Source:
×