Jon Coon for State House

One of 1996's most promising Libertarian campaigns was Jon Coon's race for State Representative in Michigan's 24th District. Building on the contacts and name recognition gained by his 1994 U.S. Senate campaign, Coon gained the endorsement of the NRA, ran radio ads for the Harry Browne campaign, out-spent and out-campaigned his opponent, and sent campaign videos to every registered voter in the district.

Coon came in a distant second, with 4,942 votes (15.4%), ahead of the Republican but behind the five-term Democractic incumbent.

NRA Endorses Libertarian

In September 1996, the Libertarian Party of Michigan announced that the National Rifle Association had endorsed Coon. The NRA sent out "voter alert" postcards to all its members in the 24th district announcing the endorsement.

This was the first time the NRA endorsed a Libertarian candidate for state office in Michigan.

State Party Runs Radio Ads

The Libertarian Party of Michigan Campaign Fund raised $10,000 to support the Browne for President campaign with radio commercials. The party purchased one spot per show per day on virtually all of the talk radio stations in the state in late October and early November.

The party ran three ads, two produced by the Harry Browne campaign and one specially produced, and narrated by Jon Coon. The Coon ad was:

COON: For far too long now the two older parties have whipsawed us into voting for "the lesser of two evils" by claiming that casting your ballot for anyone else was "wasting your vote." Hi, I'm Jon Coon, here to tell you that the time has come to put an end to this by voting for Harry Browne, the Libertarian party candidate for president. By voting for Harry you do two things. First, you send a message that you want less government. Not government that doesn't grow as fast. Less government. And, second, if enough people vote for Harry Browne, we will make the Libertarian party a major party in Michigan and end the two-party stranglehold. So, ask yourself. Do you want Clinton's 20% increase in government? Dole's 14% increase in government? Or do you want what Browne calls his "great trade":

BROWNE: "Would you give up your favorite federal programs if it meant you'd never have to pay income tax again? I'm Harry Browne, Libertarian candidate for president."

COON: To me, the choice is clear.

BOOTH: Paid for by the Libertarian Party of Michigan Campaign Fund.

Campaign Video

At a cost of $10,000, the Jon Coon campaign produced a professional 18-minute campaign video created mostly from a three-camera shoot of a speech Jon made at a campaign-sponsored Town Hall meeting in August 1995. The campaign made 23,000 copies of the video at a cost of $20,000.

The last weekend in October, in a monumental effort reported in the local media, the "Coon Platoon" of nearly 100 volunteers delivered a copy of this video to every registered voter household in the district, except apartment buildings. The campaign mailed videos to many of the remaining apartment addresses.


Of interest is how the campaign was run. From the campaign's advertising director, Tim O'Brien:

We decided early on that we would not run on "issues." Neither major party runs on issues ... Further, Libertarian positions on most issues are, at least apparently, very radical. Our goal was not to spend our time, effort and money in a (very likely futile) attempt to educate the public on the efficacy of libertarian ideas but, rather, to get Jon Coon elected.

... Our strategy was to take the high road. No personal attacks on Palamara. In fact, we conceded that he was nice guy. But because he belongs to one of those two major parties, he is impotent to get anything done. It was the simple and easily understood message that the two-party system has become the problem because special interest groups have discovered they can get whatever they want by simply contributing to both sides. And that only a third party -- without political debts -- can solve this problem.

The national Libertarian Party supported and promoted the Coon campaign as one of the winnable campaigns of the season. There have been postmortem criticisms of this strategy, the main ones being concerned with running against a five-term incumbent in a "safe" one-party district and avoiding hard-core libertarian issues.

O'Brien posted the following comparison of the three contenders in Coon's race. Financial information including sources is based on filings as of November 1996. Estimate of final filing: Coon $99,000; Palamara $52,000; Krutsch under $1,000. All other information is based on best estimates by Coon campaign staff.

CandidateCoon (L) Palamara (D) Krutsch (R)
Money raised$59,822$42,341 under $1,000, not required to file
ContributorsIndividuals 702177 not required to file
PACs 077 not required to file
AdvertisingAbsentee Mailings 510
General Mailings 210
Newspaper 030
Outdoor 040
Lawn Signs 15002000
4'x8' Banner Signs3060
TV/radio 000
Phone Bank 672 hours00
Literature Drop 10,000 pieces 0 0
Campaign Videos 23,000 copies of 18-minute video none none
Media coverageNewspaper articles 5 Detroit News,
3 Detroit Free Press,
7 News-Herald
4 News-Herald 2 News-Herald
Radio interviews 1 WXYT none none
Television interviews 1 WXYZ none none
Poll Workers130Name included on Democratic Slate cards distributed by paid workers at all precincts0
Major Endorsements NRA, GOARTL, News-Herald, UAWNone

The News-Herald is the district's local bi-weekly newspaper. Coon's articles included a "Candidates Profile" story and "Candidate Questionnaire Responses" story.

Sources: October and November 1996 posts to the LPUS mailing list by Tim O'Brien.