Wednesday, 29 Mar 2023

The armed and gay Senate hopeful who helped force Georgias runoff

The armed and gay Senate hopeful who helped force Georgias runoff

The armed and gay Senate hopeful who helped force Georgias runoff

The morning after the midterms, Chase Oliver was back at work. "That's what most other Georgians have to do after an election," he tells the Guardian. "I have a job and have to pay rent and the bills."

Oliver, 37, has two jobs, actually - one as a sales account executive for a financial services company and another as an HR rep for a securities firm. And as he toggled between email replies and Zoom interviews from his north-east Atlanta home, with three cats and a dog, Delilah, underfoot, you'd never suspect this natty, young Georgian had thrown a spanner into the cogs of American power. "You are possibly the most hated man in America right now," read one post to his Facebook page.

Oliver was the third candidate in Georgia's US Senate race: a pro-gun, anti-cop, pro-choice Libertarian who proudly announces himself as the state's first LGBTQ+ candidate - "armed and gay", he boasts. And on Tuesday night, this surprise spoiler scored an historic upset of sorts, siphoning enough support away from the Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger Herschel Walker to force the election to a 6 December runoff - Georgia's second in as many election cycles. Until then, there's no telling whether the Democrats will retain control of the Senate.

Exactly who went for Oliver remains disputed: he reckons his typical voter was a left-leaning independent who might otherwise have voted for Warnock. But one pollster predicted Oliver's success was more likely about pulling away "soft Republican" votes from rightwing voters who couldn't face voting for Walker.

Even more impressive than the 81,000 votes Oliver tallied on election night was the $7,790 he raised campaigning to win them. Of the record $8.9bn spent nationally on federal campaigns this election cycle, Georgia Senate candidates raised $136m, one of the most expensive contests in the country.

Oliver's was a true grassroots campaign. He hosted a watch party for the only Walker-Warnock debate and walked in Pride parades waving a rainbow-colored Don't Tread On Me flag now perched outside his garage. On the front lawn are campaign signs for his fellow Georgia Libertarian challengers. When I compliment his modern ranch-style home from the comfort of a screened-in back porch, he's quick to note that he pays rent to a live-in owner and mostly keeps to the basement - campaign HQ, officially. Inside, more Oliver lawn signs and posters share wall space with portraits of members of Star Trek's Starfleet.

Despite his obvious need, Oliver refused to indulge into the usual groveling for campaign cash. "I'm not someone who likes to get on the phone and beg people for money," says Oliver, who instead relied on the kindness of friends, family and fellow Libertarians. The bulk of that fundraising went toward yard signs, canvassing materials and gas for his beat-up Toyota Corolla. "It's not the prettiest in the world," he says of the car - which, among other things, is missing a cover for the rear bumper. "But it gets great mileage."

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