It can be hard to take Sean Haugh seriously. He is a Libertarian Party pizza deliveryman running for the U.S. Senate. To him, craft beer is not only an acceptable campaign donation; it is preferred. His campaign apparatus hardly extends beyond his YouTube channel—which has garnered views in the low thousands.
However, as long as the polls continue to show that Haugh (pronounced Haw) has the potential to win a greater percentage of votes than the margin that separates Sen. Kay Hagan from Speaker Thom Tillis, it is equally difficult not to imagine that the Democrats and Republicans don't see the 53-year-old pizza man from Durham as a threat.
The most recent polls by both the left-leaning Public Policy Polling and the conservative Civitas Institute indicate that Haugh may be able to secure enough votes to swing the election. Though the numbers are slightly different in each, the polls show that Haugh has the potential to win 6 or 7 percent of the vote. Compare these results with the polls' respective 5 and 2 percent margins between Hagan and Tillis, and it's clear that Haugh could be a problem for either candidate.
"He started out in a very good position for a Libertarian, getting 11 percent," said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, based in Raleigh. "As summer has progressed, we've seen his support cut in half to 5 percent. That's not unusual for a third-party candidate, as it gets closer to the election and voters want to get behind someone who can actually win."
But Haugh doesn't simply plan to swing the election. He plans to win it.
Does he stand a chance? Put simply, no. He has quite a lot of ground to make up. But he is faring far better than he did when he ran for the same seat in 2002 and only managed to win 1.45 percent of the vote, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Despite his previous loss, the large percentage point deficit and the small amount of time to overcome it before the election, Haugh remains defiant.
"A lot has changed since the last time I ran," Haugh said. "It's been 12 years, and everybody knows what a Libertarian is now. We haven't changed at all, but we've become more mainstream."
Officially, Haugh is running on a platform of "ending all war and corporate welfare." Perhaps more important than who Haugh is, however, is that he constantly reminds voters who he isn't: Tillis or Hagan. Such reminders have been critical to Haugh's campaign, which consists almost exclusively of him drinking pints of beer and waxing on about Libertarianism.
"I'm absolutely sure I can win because people don't like Senator Hagan or Speaker Tillis," Haugh said. "I'm kind of surprised by how much support I'm getting just because I'm neither of them. If only I had the foresight to legally change my name to 'Someone Else' before the election, I'd be doing great."
Unfortunately for Haugh, he might as well be named "Someone Else." When the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters organized its first senatorial debate earlier this month, he was not invited. In one of his videos, Haugh jokingly said he wasn't going to watch the debate, calling it a "snoozefest." He said that being snubbed was not surprising.
"They're totally afraid to face me," Haugh said. "Both of them are pretending I don't exist and hoping that I'll just go away."
He could be right about that. At press time, neither Hagan nor Tillis' campaigns had responded to repeated emails and calls requesting comment on Haugh.
Haugh is slated to participate in two upcoming debates. The first, sponsored by the League of Women Voters, is set for Oct. 9 in Wilmington. The second is scheduled to take place on Oct. 17 in Charlotte. Neither Tillis nor Hagan have confirmed whether they will be attending either debate as of yet.
Originally from Tucson, Arizona, Haugh is the grandson of Republican politician and former Arizona Speaker of the House John Haugh. His parents' political idols were Republican Barry Goldwater and Martin Luther King Jr. Haugh sees himself as a "natural-born Libertarian," but he didn't pursue politics until later in life.
Haugh attended Tufts University for four years. After failing to complete his foreign-language requirement, he dropped out of school and moved around the country for a while before settling in Durham, where he has lived for the past 27 years.
In the early '90s, Haugh worked as a professional cake decorator for Ninth Street Bakery and later moved on to Duke Hospital, where he helped people process insurance paperwork. In 2000, Haugh became the executive director of North Carolina's Libertarian Party, and in 2007, he became the political director for the National Libertarian Party, a position he left in 2008.
"I don't have the level of immorality to be successful in the business of politics," Haugh said. "I much prefer delivering pizza, but now since I run my own campaign, I don't have to kiss anybody's ring. I don't have to hold my nose when my allies do something bad. It's much better this way."
Haugh has been delivering pizza in his 2005 Kia Spectra for a little more than a year now. He said he doesn't believe that the federal government should raise the minimum wage—although he makes slightly above the minimum wage. In fact, he said doesn't believe the government should set a minimum wage at all.
"Politicians are not economists," Haugh said. "We absolutely have to reduce the size of government, so it stops being such a large part of the economy."
Haugh said he believes this principle should hold true to government upkeep of infrastructure—that includes the roads he uses to deliver pizzas. But he struggled to explain how he and his fellow pizza deliverymen would be able to do their jobs without government-maintained roads.
Haugh hasn't thought about what he will do if he loses, but if reviving his career in politics doesn't work out, he's always got pizza.
"I try not to be resentful of the fact that I'm 53, and I deliver pizza," Haugh said. "It's a happy job because it's either joy or relief that motivates people to order pizza."
In November, it will likely be frustration with Hagan and Tillis or a lack of familiarity with them that motivates people to vote for Haugh.
"Haugh still has a pretty good chance to break the all-time record for the most support a Libertarian candidate receives in North Carolina," Jensen said. "It's a reflection of the fact that voters don't really like Kay Hagan or Thom Tillis and they're turned off by all the negativity. That puts people in the position where they're more willing than usual to support a third-party candidate like Haugh."
This article appeared in print with the headline "This guy wants to be your Senator"