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1996 | 07 | 05 | Articles | The Wall Street Journal | Politics
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The Wall Street Journal
July 5, 1996
Libertarian Party Makes Pitch On Internet to Generation X

Carlton Hobbs, a 20-year-old math major at the University of Texas at Arlington, was cruising the Internet last September when he came across the web site for the Libertarian Party (

Since then, he has spent more than $500 on books about Libertarianism. He cleared his summer to work on a 21-chapter book about Christianity and Libertarianism. He joined the party and planned to drive nearly 26 hours to attend its presidential nominating convention that began July 4 in Washington.

"I’ve never met another Libertarian in my life," says Mr. Hobbs. "This convention will be the first time."

Young Mr. Hobbs is exactly the kind of person the "LP," as the political party refers to itself, is looking for. With its membership aging, the party is mounting its first concerted effort to recruit younger members.

Internet and Talk Radio

For the first time since the LP was founded 25 years ago, the party’s presidential nominating convention is being held in July instead of over Labor Day, in part so college students can attend. The convention will feature a session entitled "Listen Up Generation X" and two days of special workshops on campus-organizing techniques for the first time as well. The party also has launched an innovative effort to use the Internet and talk radio to get its message out.

The campaign of Harry Browne, an investment adviser who is the likely LP presidential nominee, also has relied heavily on the Internet. Early on in his campaign, he set up a web site ( that features his position papers and a chatty campaign diary. If he gets the nomination Saturday, he plans further efforts specifically aimed at young voters: "We’ll do everything we can to get onto MTV."

The Libertarian Party, founded on a platform of dismantling government functions not specifically authorized in the Constitution, currently has 15,600 dues-paying members and 125,000 registered voters. The party’s platform includes calls for repealing the income tax and ending government interference with gun control, drugs and abortion. The party expects to be on the presidential ballot in all 50 states for the third time and will field candidates in a majority of U.S. House races, which no third party has done since 1920. But while libertarian ideas seem to be increasingly popular, the party itself isn’t a major political force.

Problem of Impermanence

Unlike the two major parties, which have long relied upon campus organizations of Young Republicans and Young Democrats as sources for volunteer labor and organizing activities, the Libertarians have had trouble establishing permanent presences on college campuses. "You get a good vibrant group going and then the firecracker graduates," says Rick Tompkins, a former Arizona state party chairman who also is a candidate for the LP presidential nomination.

Libertarians say their emphasis on reducing the size of government debt that will fall to the next generation — and reducing the size of government in general — should appeal to young people. And the best avenue for reaching those people these days is the Internet. "Both the Democrats and Republicans are still caught up in building organizations and hierarchies on campus," LP National Chairman Steve Dasbach says. "The Internet provides a real means of linking college students together without having these hierarchical organizations on campus."

Since college students generally have free Internet access and high-speed connections, the Internet has already emerged as a key organizing tool on campus, students say.

"Through the Internet, I get to meet other young Libertarians," says Ed Hertzog, a 21-year-old political science major at Penn State University. "I’d put the Internet at the top of the list [of organizing tools.] Communication is the key in organizing a party."

"We have a very high percentage of Libertarians on the Internet. Recruiting on the Internet has been very successful for us," says David Fry, a 21-year-old business management major at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., who was scheduled to attend the convention as a delegate.

That’s exactly how Mr. Hobbs discovered the LP last September while researching presidential candidates on the Internet.