Watch CBSN Live

Duke Professor Munger Turning Heads In North Carolina Governor Race As Libertarian Choice

This story was written by Jake Stanley, The Duke Chronicle

For Duke University professor Michael Munger, the decision to run for North Carolina governor was simple.

"I was motivated by my dissatisfaction with the direction of the nation and state," he said. "The best way to change this was to run for office."

Munger, chair of the political science department and professor of economics, currently holds a 3.9 percent stake as the Libertarian candidate in the state's gubernatorial race, according to an Oct. 8 poll.

As a third-party candidate, Munger could have an effect on the outcome of the election as he gains votes against his two opponents, Democratic Lt. Gov Bev Perdue and Republican Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory.

"Munger has been requalifying the Libertarian party in North Carolina. If he becomes prominent enough, he will get attention and following," said John Aldrich, Pfizer-Pratt University professor of political science. "He is different from most Libertarians. He is against gun control, pro-choice and anti-death penalty. His policies are across the spectrum."

This unconventionality has made Munger a versatile candidate, and some said his success could propel the Libertarian Party forward on the national political scene-and in the Gothic Wonderland.

Local and national politics

The Libertarian Party gained traction in national politics this past year with the success of former presidential candidate Ron Paul, Med '61.

Bob Barr, a former Republican representative from Georgia, entered the presidential race in May. CNN reported then that he could be a "headache" for McCain, as he lures conservative voters who might otherwise vote Republican. He is currently on the ballot in 45 states, according to the Libertarian Party Web site.

Munger's views, however, take cues from the left and right, while consistently opposing government interference in the lives of Americans-he called the North Carolina government a "corrupt cartel."

"I'm viewed as a leftist sometimes. My support is highest among African Americans.... [And I've] received contributions from Duke faculty," he said.

Munger's varied views on critical issues could possibly take attention and votes from both Perdue and McCrory, Aldrich said.

"He is against government involvement in our lives, and that involvement can come from both Republicans and Democrats.... He only wants to use government for the most necessary reasons," Aldrich said.

With strong opinions on fiscal responsibility, Munger may bolster his electability in this time of international financial crisis.

In a Sept. 23 editorial for The Charlotte Observer, he criticized the then uncertain federal bailout of Wall Street.

"The point is that you can't take money away from taxpayers who earned it, give it to the financiers who squandered it and call that a good policy," he wrote.

Closer to home

Freshman Logan Hoy, who is a Libertarian, said Munger's candidacy could boost the Libertarian party both on a large and small scale.

"Munger's possible success could help organize and give a voice to Libertarians around the state and country," Hoy said.

He added, however, that on campus Munger has not necessarily increased activity among student Libertarians.

"If Munger were in the spotlight at Duke... more Libertarians would want to get together and organize," he said.

Perhaps the idea of an organization is counter-intuitive to some student Libertarians, Hoy and Munger said. Munger explained that Libertarians usually do not form party groups, which may be why an official Libertarian student roup does not exist on campus.

"Libertarians want to be left alone," he added.

He noted, however, that the Duke Conservative Union is "pretty much Libertarian."

But some said the relative success of Libertarian candidates could have an effect on mobilizing this particular demographic at the University.

Hoy said he is interested in making this a reality.

"I'm considering getting Libertarians together and starting an organization, but they tend to be disorganized," Hoy said. "Libertarians don't outwardly identify themselves, and they don't try to find others."

Despite the stress of running a campaign, Munger has remained focused on his teaching. In the middle of campaign season last month, he travelled to Australia as a keynote speaker at an international conference on recycling. He emphasized that the trip would be beneficial to his teaching.

"I can't take time off to run [my campaign]. I'm teaching classes," he said.