With exactly one week before the midterm elections, candidates are making their final pitches and fundraising appeals to voters. A lot is at stake – the GOP is expected to remain comfortably in control of the House of Representatives and could even pick up a few seats, but the battle for the Democratic-held Senate is still very much up in the air, although the GOP has a slight advantage.
A major wildcard, however, are third party candidates in several Senate races. While few if any are expected to win, they could peel away votes from major-party candidates and have a huge impact on the outcome of the election. The GOP needs to achieve a net gain of six seats to control the upper chamber of Congress, so an independent-influenced loss in any race could be huge.
Below is a look at the third party or independent candidates who are throwing curve balls into the 2014 midterms.
Alaska: Mark Fish
There’s a tight race in Alaska between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Dan Sullivan. Former Libertarian Party chairman and retired Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Mark Fish, however, has been taking in about 3% of the vote – which could be enough to tip the balance of the race.
It’s happened before. Back in 2008, Begich won by less than 4,000 votes in a race where a conservative candidate peeled 13,000 votes away from veteran GOP incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens.
Georgia: Amanda Swafford
This Libertarian candidate and paralegal in Georgia could play the role of spoiler in the Georgia Senate race. Republican David Perdue and Democrat Michelle Nunn—daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn—are in a tight race for retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat.
Perdue polled well at the start of the election cycle, but has since fallen off, with several surveys showing that Nunn has surged into a virtual tie. Like Louisiana, if no candidate gets 50% of the vote, there would be a runoff election, on Jan. 6. Swafford has also been picking up about 4% to 5% support and could force a runoff if she picks off votes from Perdue.
Kansas: Greg Orman
Businessman Greg Orman is suddenly a force to be reckoned with as Republican Sen. Pat Roberts tries to secure a fourth term. That’s because Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out of the race in September, leaving Roberts to face off with just Orman, who is an independent.
What makes this race even more of a nail-biter is that Orman has said he isn’t sure which party he’s going to caucus with. According to a new NBC/Marist poll, Orman is leading Roberts by one point. Earlier this month, however, Orman led by 10 points.
Roberts has tried to paint Orman as a liberal in disguise in this red state. Orman, meanwhile, has tried to pitch himself as an independent voice that is much needed on Capitol Hill.
Louisiana: Rob Maness
It's looking like Rob Maness, a retired Air Force colonel and tea party favorite, could push the Louisiana Senate race into a runoff election.
Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is being challenged for a fourth term by Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy. While polls have consistently showed Landrieu with a slight lead against Cassidy, she’s not near the 50% threshold required by the state to avoid a runoff election between the top two candidates.
Right now, the GOP vote is being divided by Cassidy and Maness. But if Landrieu is forced into a runoff between just her and Cassidy, polls show the sitting senator could lose. The likely Dec. 6 runoff is expected to be brutal, especially if the outcome will determine which party controls the Senate.
North Carolina: Sean Haugh
Pizza deliveryman and libertarian Senate candidate Sean Haugh could have a big impact in how the Senate tips. Haugh, who is taking on Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in North Carolina, in addition to Republican Thom Tillis, is garnering a not-insignificant chunk of the vote.
October surveys from Public Policy Polling shows Haugh, 53, raking in 5%, while a SurveyUSA poll from Oct 21 has him with 6% and a Time Warner News poll gives with 7%.
With polls showing Hagan and Tillis just a few points apart, Haugh could potentially draw a good portion of votes away from Hagan and Tillis.
Also, we want to hear from you! For the next piece in this series, we’re taking a look at the most ridiculous fundraising pleas this election cycle. Did you see or get any? Let us know by leaving a comment on this post.