Sean Haugh is sitting at the bar in jeans and a t-shirt, holding court about the problems in Washington. Occasionally, he pauses to take a big gulp out of a pint glass emblazoned with a picture of libertarian economist Murray Rothbard. It’s a scene you might not expect to come across at a bar in Durham, N.C., where Haugh lives. It’s also at least slightly bizarre for a campaign ad in a tightly contested race.
“I'm getting a large amount of support just because I'm a regular working guy that you can sit down and have a beer with,” said Haugh, 53. “And both of my opponents make it quite clear that they're really not interested in hearing anything from the people at all,” said the pizza delivery man who’s Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina, running against Republican Thom Tillis and Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan.
Haugh's YouTube videos — where he sips craft beer in his campaign manager’s basement while discussing major political issues — aren’t the only part of his campaign raising eyebrows. In general, this midterm election has become a referendum on the Obama Administration’s handling of the economy, healthcare and national security. But Haugh has campaigned on his own terms, running on positions like shutting down the National Security Agency (NSA), ending North Carolina’s state income tax, opening America’s borders and legalizing drugs.
Much of Haugh’s campaign focuses on ending what he calls “foreign entanglements” — war, occupation and overseas bases. He grows especially animated when discussing the mass surveillance programs revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
“We ran Richard Nixon out of town for just bugging one office, and now we have a situation where the government is collecting everybody's data on everything,” Haugh said. If elected, Haugh has promised to close the NSA and delete its mass surveillance records.
That’s perhaps an unusual stance to take at a time when even the most basic NSA reforms have stalled in Congress, and when the public debate is turning away from fears about government surveillance toward renewed threats from foreign terrorist groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). But Haugh believes his plan would leave national security intact.
“We have the technology, and we can get warrants to actually collect that data on people,” he said. “And we don't need the National Security Agency to do that.”
Haugh is just as absolutist when it comes to ending foreign wars and bringing home troops from far-off outposts. Not only does he advocate stopping the current air strikes against ISIL and other extremist groups in Iraq and Syria, but he’s also quick to draw a connection between winding down wars and removing prohibitions on recreational drug use.
“That's another war we have to end as part of my campaign to stop all war,” said Haugh, who admitted to using marijuana in an interview with VICE last week. “And that's another example of how U.S. government policy has absolutely failed. All that it's managed to do is put large amounts of people into prison. It hasn't done anything to affect drug use, really.”
That message has gained Haugh wide attention — including coverage in the Washington Post, Newsweek, Fox News and the Los Angeles Times. A CNN/Opinion Research poll from Oct. 30 puts Haugh at 4 percent among likely voters, with Hagan at 48 percent and Tillis at 46 percent. Another recent poll has Hagan and Tillis tied at 43 percent among likely voters, with Haugh at 7 percent.
Now, many observers are worried that Haugh could draw voters away from Hagan and throw the election in Tillis’ favor. The conservative American Future Fund even ran cheeky ads urging voters to “get high, vote Sean Haugh” in an apparent attempt to lure young, liberal voters away from Kay Hagan. According to the Huffington Post, Hagan opposes legalizing marijuana.
For his part, Haugh bristles at the idea that a vote for him takes votes away from another candidate.
“This view of it only being about the two of them is so incredibly backwards and totally incorrect, because the Democrats and the Republicans don't own the votes,” he said. “It's the individual voter that owns his or her own vote, and we voters decide every time to whom we're going to give those votes. So there's nothing given to us, and there shouldn't be.”