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Libertarian Krawchuk wages battle to get on the ballot in primary election

| Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, 10:10 p.m.
Gubernatorial hopeful Ken Krawchuk of Montgomery County says he’s the candidate for residents who want less government.

HARRISBURG — The tone in Ken Krawchuk's voice changes when he talks about the signatures he needs to get on the ballot as a Libertarian Party candidate in the governor's race.

Turning serious, Krawchuk acknowledges it's a sore spot.

Though Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and his Democratic challengers each need 2,000 signatures, Krawchuk by law, as a third-party candidate, must gather 16,639 valid signatures of Pennsylvania residents. The number of signatures that third-party candidates need fluctuates based on top vote-getters' totals in the last election.

“They don't want the competition,” he said, calling it an “onerous” requirement.

The party on Saturday nominated Krawchuk, 61, of Cheltenham in Montgomery County as its candidate for governor in the November general election. For anyone who wants less government, he's the guy for whom to vote, he said.

Pennsylvania government has grown at three times the rate of inflation over 50 years, he contends, and “taxes are too high because spending is too high.” Krawchuk supports ending what he calls “the insane” war on drugs and would legalize marijuana. He says government should be limited to protecting people's rights, lives and property.

“We do believe in defense, police and public safety,” Krawchuk said.

Unlike the major parties, there's no primary in May for third-party candidates, of which Libertarians are the largest with about 45,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania: “We have more than all the other third parties put together.”

The big test is getting those ballot signatures — with every “i” dotted and “t” crossed to withstand court challenges that Republicans typically file, Krawchuk said.

“When it comes to ballot access, in the past, tens of thousands of fraudulent signatures have been submitted, and that should concern all Pennsylvanians, regardless of party affiliation,” said Megan Sweeney, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party. “Right now, our grass-roots network is focusing on circulating nomination petitions for three weeks to bring in thousands of signatures for Gov. Corbett and Lt. Gov. (Jim) Cawley.”

The lieutenant governor needs 1,000 signatures, 100 each from five counties, and 500 more. Corbett must gather 100 each in 10 counties and another 1,000 anywhere in the state, said Ron Ruman, a spokesman for the Department of State. Those are due by March 11.

Libertarians have from March 11 through Aug. 1.

Both major parties challenge third-party candidates, Krawchuk said. House Democrats in 2004 led the successful effort to knock consumer activist Ralph Nader off the ballot for fear he would drain votes from Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, who carried Pennsylvania but lost the race to George W. Bush.

The son of a factory worker who grew up in a North Philadelphia row house, Krawchuk is a computer consultant and, according to his official biography, a “political activist, writer, inventor, public speaker, business architect ... and outdoorsman.” His lineage is Polish and Ukrainian.

He's proud of the fact that he broke the 1 percent barrier — that is, 1 percent of total vote — in the 1998 and 2002 gubernatorial races. If he gets on the ballot, political experience won't be an issue. Krawchuk took part in six gubernatorial debates during the two campaigns against heavy hitters: former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge and ex-Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell. Krawchuk ran for public office eight times as a Libertarian, including contests for Congress and state House.

If U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Montgomery County wins the Democratic primary against seven opponents, Krawchuk may be on stage debating his congresswoman.

There's broader awareness of Libertarians and their message today, he said. He points to the Tea Party movement and national notoriety of Republican U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and his father, former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, with their Libertarian-friendly views.

“I'm a member of a couple Tea Party organizations,” Krawchuk said. “In the 1994 race, I'd say, ‘I'm a Libertarian,' and (someone) would say, ‘I'm a Presbyterian.' ”

G. Terry Madonna, a pollster and political pundit, said there may be a marginal increase in Libertarians' performance, but he does not foresee a breakthrough on the horizon. The election won't be decided on social issues such as gay marriage or legalizing marijuana, where Libertarians may have public support, predicts Madonna, a Franklin & Marshall University professor. Where Libertarians “could do a little better is due to the disenchantment of voters with the major parties,” he said.

Madonna sees no way for the Libertarian candidate to win the governor's race, but improvement might be measured in “a few percentage points” increase.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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