At a Sunday night concert-turned-campaign rally, guitarist Rod Rivera hailed an unlikely new voter base shaping Colorado politics.
“I am so proud of every fuckin’ metalhead. The metalheads went out to vote,” Rivera, frontman of the band Driven By Turmoil, announced in a break between songs. “We made a difference in the vote with Dan Ward. He’s right here! Come on up to the stage, Dan Ward! Get your ass up here. Congressman Dan Ward!”
Ward, a tattooed electrician who doubles as a soundman for Driven By Turmoil, bounded onto the stage and pumped his fist in the air, his index and pinky fingers up in a heavy metal salute. The band then launched into Ward’s unofficial campaign theme song, a thrash anthem called “Shut The Fuck Up.”
It wasn’t exactly a victory party. Ward had earned just under 4 percent of the vote. But it was an impressive turnout for a Libertarian candidate, especially one who’s become a critic of the Libertarian Party’s recent rightward shift. Ward’s share of the vote may have decided the outcome of the closely fought race for Colorado’s 8th congressional district, tipping the battleground district into Democratic control.
Prior to the midterms, polls gave Republican candidate Barbara Kirkmeyer a slight advantage over her Democratic opponent, Yadira Caraveo. Both The New York Times and Politico favored Kirkmeyer to win the race, with Politico even increasing her odds the week before the election. Instead, Caraveo won the night by 1,691 votes. That narrow margin was far outstripped by the 9,095 votes Ward won on the Libertarian ticket.
“You didn’t see me at all if you were looking for me in the conventional spaces,” Ward told The Daily Beast of his unexpected support. “I went with a very different approach. I was looking for people that didn’t vote, ever. I had a lot of people tell me ‘I’m 50 years old, I’ve never voted in my life, and I’m gonna vote for the first time, for you.’ I took that with a grain of salt, but apparently they were telling me the truth… I believe that was where it came from.”
Some Colorado pundits were quick to call Ward a spoiler, possibly even part of a coordinated bid to block Kirkmeyer, 9News first reported. In a blog post, Colorado radio host Mandy Connell asked outright, “who propped up Richard Ward?” (Richard is Dan’s legal name.) Connell speculated that Democrats had boosted Ward’s campaign, then updated the blog post to theorize about involvement from the group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which has beefed with Kirkmeyer in the past.
The RMGO did not return The Daily Beast’s request for comment, and by Wednesday night, Connell said the group’s leader had tossed cold water on her theory. “He said, ‘We are in the middle of like four court cases, so that sucks up all of our resources and we didn’t meddle at all in this race,’” Connell told The Daily Beast.
Connell now attributes Ward’s 3.9 percent of the vote to anti-Kirkmeyer Republicans “who were looking for anywhere to put their vote and they didn’t even Google this guy.”
“I don’t know if anybody formally meddled, but the fact that this guy got almost 4 percent of the vote is literally the funniest, most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in my life,” she said. “His campaign theme song is ‘Shut The Fuck Up’!”
The song is an unusual campaign anthem. The refrain goes “shut your piehole/i don’t give a fuck/i don’t care what you say, motherfucker/I really don’t care/shut the fuck up/shut the fuck up/shut the fuck up/shut up/shut the fuck up/shut the fuck up/shut the fuck up/shut up.”
But heavy metal was central to Ward’s campaign.
Ward said he doubted he won over any Republicans, in part because of his roadie appearance.
“If you look at me, I’ve got fairly long hair, neck tattoos; I’m a fairly scruffy-looking guy,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a Republican alive that would have voted for me.”
Ward is a former Green Party member and a libertarian socialist, his public affairs director Patty McMahon noted. He was previously active with Colorado’s Decriminalize Nature campaign, an effort to legalize use of psychedelic plants like mushrooms.
Contrary to post-election impressions of Ward as an out-of-nowhere candidate, McMahon said his campaign ran a savvy ground game, campaigning at concerts and alongside Libertarian candidates in neighboring districts.
“The urban legend that Dan sort of fell from the sky into concerts, into 4 percent of the vote isn’t exactly true,” McMahon said. “I wish it was. I would have had a much more relaxing spring, summer, and fall if this had been true.”
Support for Ward spanned political factions within Colorado’s libertarian metal community. McMahon pointed to another band’s anarcho-capitalist frontman, who mobilized to support Ward, a libertarian socialist.
But outside the metal world, Ward has come into conflict with Libertarian leaders as the party undergoes a dramatic internal battle.
Earlier this year, the right-wing Mises Caucus won control of the Libertarian Party’s national leadership. The takeover resulted in bitter rifts and accusations of bigotry, with some state-level Libertarian parties moving to disaffiliate from the national party. The leader of a now-dissolved Virginia Libertarian party, Holly Ward (no relation), previously told The Daily Beast that Mises agendas like secession were a departure from the party’s previous platforms.
“It’s the most un-libertarian messaging that’s coming out of national,” she told The Daily Beast in September. “I want no part in advocating for secession or alt-right agendas.”
Dan Ward has also taken issue with the party’s direction, putting him at odds with state-level leadership, McMahon said. (The Libertarian Party of Colorado did not return a request for comment.)
“Dan is part of a resistance movement within the Libertarian Party,” McMahon said. “We have openly protested the messaging that has been coming out of the Libertarian Party that they call edgy. We don’t think it’s edgy. We think it’s racist, we think it’s sexist… We think it’s obnoxious.”
Although some county-level Libertarian leaders stood with Ward in his campaign, McMahon said state and national parties ignored Ward’s candidacy, even at a party meeting Ward attended the week after his campaign. “They didn’t even acknowledge him last night,” McMahon said on Tuesday. “It’s like Dan doesn’t exist [because] Dan is a libsoc, a libertarian socialist.”
She said she hopes Ward’s relative electoral success (other Libertarian candidates in Colorado averaged around 1.9 percent of the vote, 9News reported) will give some Libertarians pause when they contemplate the party’s path forward in elections.
Ward probably won’t win the next election, either. But the metal community is already raging for the next race.
“Love you, brother,” Rivera, the Driven By Turmoil frontman, told Ward onstage. “We’re gonna hit it even harder next time.”
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