The time is right for a third-party candidate to occupy the White House, an Oklahoman seeking the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination says.
Many Americans are frustrated with federal spending and are looking for someone with common sense to save the country from economic turmoil, R.J. Harris said.
“The republic is in one of the most dire straits it's been in since before its founding,” he said. “We've got a Washington, D.C., full of career politicians and that doesn't seem to help.”
Voters are “totally fed up” with Democrats and Republicans, he said.
Also, by using social media venues on the Internet, such as Facebook and Twitter, candidates can recruit and stay in touch with supporters at relatively little cost compared with earlier times when contenders needed money for travel and advertising to get their views known, said Harris, of Norman.
U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, a political newcomer elected last year in a crowded field for Oklahoma's 5th Congressional District seat, pulled out a surprise victory as the GOP nominee after a relatively low-budget campaign that relied heavily on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
Social media programs make it possible “for individual citizen statesmen to get out there and compete in the arena of ideas,” he said.
“This is definitely a David and Goliath story, but it can be done,” Harris said.
Harris, 38, a 20-year Oklahoma Army National Guard officer, faces a struggle just getting his name on Oklahoma's ballot for the November 2012 general election.
The Libertarian Party needs to get 51,739 signatures of registered voters, which amounts to at least 5 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election. The deadline is March 1.
Signature collection efforts have been under way since May. About 20,000 signatures have been collected so far, Harris said; he expects they will be gathered at a faster clip now that cooler weather is here and more people will be attending events, such as football games.
“It is really hard to get a third party on the ballot,” Harris said. “We haven't had the Libertarian Party on the ballot since 2000. But the excitement out there for this campaign is such that it has really fired up the grassroots activists and supporters.”
Harris said he is getting help from some Republicans who are upset with Republicans in Congress who recently voted to raise the country's debt ceiling, he said.
A Libertarian Party candidate won't be on the March presidential preferential ballot in Oklahoma. Even if it were a recognized party in the state, the Libertarian Party, unlike the Republican and Democratic parties, doesn't hold primaries to choose electors to cast votes in the Electoral College for president.
Libertarian Party delegates will be elected at state conventions, and the delegates will select the presidential and vice presidential nominees at a national convention.
Harris is one of several contenders seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.
“We're doing really well out there,” he said.
Harris, a chief warrant officer in the National Guard who served two combat tours in Iraq, a combat tour in Afghanistan and a peacekeeping tour in South Korea, made his first bid for public office last year when he opposed U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, for the 4th Congressional District seat.
Harris filed as a Republican, and won 23 percent of the vote in last year's GOP primary. Shortly before the primary, he was activated to serve in Afghanistan. He returned from Afghanistan in July.
Harris calls himself a constitutional libertarian and has been involved in the nationwide grassroots Liberty Candidate movement, which supports candidates that defend individual liberty, constitutional government, sound money, free markets and a noninterventionist foreign policy.
He said his presidential goals are restoring liberty and freedom as well as defending the Constitution.
“We're trying to restore the economic freedom, the economic liberty, the personal freedom and the individual liberty that made this republic the greatest nation in the world,” Harris said. “That has been a little bit deteriorating ... through socialist economic policies and infringements on people's individual and personal liberty.”
Harris said he opposes the federal health care law and the Patriot Act, which reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone and email communications, medical, financial, and other records as well as eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the U.S.
Harris graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a philosophy degree and is in his third year at OU's law school. He hopes to graduate in May, a week after the Libertarian Party has its national convention in Las Vegas.
Because convention delegates will choose the party's nominees for president and vice president, Harris said he plans to appear at Libertarian state conventions, where delegates to the national convention will be chosen. Conventions are held on weekends.
“That's very conducive to my school schedule,” he said. “We can do a lot of this through technology.”
Harris, who raised about $68,000 in his congressional campaign, conceded it will be difficult to raise money to wage a campaign against an incumbent Democratic president and the Republican nominee.
“We're definitely going to be competing in the millions of dollars range,” he said.
“As folks begin to see that they have an alternative, we will be able to compete with the fundraising dollars out there,” he said. “They look and they see what they're getting from President (Barack) Obama, they look and see what they're getting from the GOP and it just seems more of the same old bickering, most of the same old left-right paradigm. ...
“We're trying to show everyone that we can fight a race that's leaner and more efficient and still get the message out. One thing I've begun to learn is that if you have the message, the money will follow.”