Chase Oliver had to fit his campaign for Senate into the spare hours he had left over after his two day jobs. The 37-year-old ran the operation out of his basement, with four staffers, and help from friends. Every Saturday morning for the last several months, he would wake up early, drive his beat-up Toyota Corolla to a different neighborhood and start knocking on doors. Voters, he says, “were very happy that they got to hear from a candidate directly — even if they weren’t voting for me.”
Almost 4 million Georgians cast ballots on Tuesday. Most cast them for Sen. Raphael Warnock, or his celebrity challenger, the former football star Herschel Walker. And then there was the small but mighty slice of the electorate that stuck it to the two-party system and threw their support behind Oliver, the Libertarian candidate. He ended up with a little more than two percent of the vote. Warnock, meanwhile, finished 0.6 percent shy of the 50 percent he needed to avoid a runoff.
The Warnock-Walker rematch is now set for December 6. By forcing Warnock and Walker into a runoff, Oliver’s scrapy candidacy has already had an outsize influence on the midterm elections. And with the ear of more than 80,000 Georgia voters, he may have even more influence left to exert. Oliver is not endorsing either candidate — at least not yet. He’s offered to put their slights behind him, and host a forum with both candidates for voters to hear where they stand on issues like weed legalization and immigration reform. Rolling Stone spoke with him about how it felt to be the most influential libertarian in the United States this year.
You ran this campaign out of your basement — how does it feel to have, quite possibly, decided control of the Senate?
It’s humbling to know that over 80,000 people have put their faith in this campaign. I’m really honored to have earned their votes. The fact that I was able to do it on a shoestring budget shows just how much dissatisfaction there still is with the two-party system.
How much did you spend?
I think we’re hovering around the $10,000, total, for the entire campaign. I would like to say that I took zero PAC money, unlike my opponents. And, unlike my opponents, a majority of my funds actually came from within the state.
I’ve heard you describe yourself as a former Democrat — how did the Democrats lose you?
I started out my political life as an anti-war activist in the wake of the war in Iraq. I was an ardent supporter of Barack Obama in 2008, because he promised to close Guantanamo. He said he was going to stop the drone policies of the Bush administration, and the wars. And he really didn’t do any of those things — and yet he got a Nobel Peace Prize. That, to me, was very insulting. And what really bothered me was that the anti-war left that was marching with me in the streets while Bush was president, completely disappeared while Obama was president. That drove me out of the Democratic Party.
How did Libertarians win you over?
It was in 2010. I was at Atlanta Pride, and the Libertarian Party of Georgia was at the Pride Festival. I started speaking to them and realized that they were a party that broadly speaks for peace and free markets and things like a balanced budget — which used to be something that Democrats championed: Bill Clinton championed a balanced budget in the 1990s, and it brought us broad prosperity and a growing middle class. Libertarians preach that message of fiscal sanity, as well as a different kind of foreign policy, social issues like immigration reform and gay rights. I felt I found a political home there.
You have a full-time job, right? This was almost like a side-hustle for you. What did you hope to accomplish with this campaign?
I do have a full time job. And then I also have a side job as well. I work in HR for a security company in Washington State. Basically, I do job interviews and fill out HR paperwork all day.
I really wanted to make sure that people understood that we need to have more choices on our ballot and more voices in the discourse because the two-party system is poisonous. Right now we have two major parties that are continuing to pull each other further and further apart and going to the ideologically extreme bases. And that leaves a lot of voters feeling unrepresented. And I wanted to provide a real option for those voters. And I also wanted to highlight how structurally broken the United States Senate is itself. It’s basically [party] leadership handing us thousands of pages of bills, and they get voted on the next day. And that’s a real problem.
You’re facing a lot of criticism right now for “spoiling” this race. How are you responding to it?
A lot of people in this election spouted rhetoric about how we need to preserve and save our democracy. The truth is: our democracy functions better when we have more than just two choices on the ballot. I don’t think people should be angry with me for providing another option. We have a runoff for that very reason.
As a libertarian though, does it grate on you the amount of money the government spends on runoff elections like this one? It was something like $6.1 million in Fulton County alone last time.
First, I’m the only candidate in my election who actually came up with a solution to stop the cost of runoffs in the future: ranked choice voting. I talked about it in my debate with Senator Warnock. His only solution was ‘If you don’t want a runoff, you just need to get out and vote for me.’ I think that’s insulting to the independent voters out there who wanted to have another option. As far as the cost of the runoff to the taxpayer, people have been saying, ‘Well, these people who caused the runoff, they need to pay for it.’ But the truth is Libertarians pay the costs of the Republicans and Democrats primary every election, whether there’s a runoff or not, and we don’t get to participate. And that’s an immediate advantage for Republicans and Democrats. So I don’t feel bad about causing it — especially when the Libertarian the race is the only one providing the solution.
You ran on legalizing weed, criminal justice reform, tax reform, gun rights, abortion rights — which issues are you most hopeful the candidates take up in your absence?
Whomever represents Georgia in the United States ought to take up comprehensive immigration reform, because it’s something that we have been discussing and debating since Ronald Reagan was president, and it hasn’t gotten done. We really need a bipartisan group of senators to come together to actually make immigration less costly, more efficient, and more simple. And as far as justice reforms, we really need to see an end to qualified immunity for law enforcement at the federal level, so that states can follow suit.
You’ve talked about hosting a forum in which you would interview both candidates. I understand you’ve reached out to both campaigns about this idea — have you heard back?
We sent an email out before noon [on Thursday]. We have not yet heard back from either campaign. We will continue to reach out throughout the [runoff]. I’m leaving the invitation until the day of the election.
What were your impressions of Walker and Warnock as you were campaigning against them?
I didn’t really focus on the individual campaigns too much as I was trying to do my own thing. I feel like Walker should have participated in one of the debates — I would have liked to have seen him on the debate stage alongside myself and Senator Warnock. I felt he did a disservice to his campaign to not show up. At the same time, I also felt Warnock did a disservice to the voters of Georgia by basically ignoring his opponent on stage when we were debating.
Which is worse — ignoring you to your face, or refusing to debate you at all?
Neither of them are really pleasant. But I think there’s something kind of personal when someone is standing a foot to your left and they can’t look to the right for an hour. That, maybe, is a little bit more personal. But I think both are a disrespect to the voters of Georgia. I can be personally disrespected, I don’t mind, I have a thick skin. But it’s when the voters are disrespected, that that bothers me.
Will you be voting in the runoff? For who?
I haven’t made a decision yet. I’ll probably get out and vote. But I want to hear more from both candidates first, before I make a decision.
Who do you think your 80,000 voters will back? Do you have a prediction?
I predict it’s going to be a high turnout for a runoff — that’s what I predict. A lot of people are going to get out and vote. I can’t say who’s gonna win, because if you look at exit polling for my supporters as to where they were going to go, it’s kind of all over the place. It’s pretty evenly split as to who was, ideologically, going to go with the Democrats or Republicans as a second choice. There’s also the factor of: some libertarians just will not vote for a two-party candidate. They are a smaller minority within that pool of voters. [But] that’s going to have an effect as well.