In my U.S. House (1st District, Michigan) campaign, the three 3rd party candidates scored nearly the same number of votes, about 1%. The incumbent (Democrat) received nearly double the number of votes of the Republican challenger. As far as I know, the Green/Socialist party candidate did absolutely nothing, not a single survey, debate, sign, or anything, and she still did as well as she did. On the other hand, I did three televised debates (usually just me and the D and the R), two radio interviews, a TV interview, and had a nice write up following an editorial board interview with one of the bigger papers in the district. I completed all of the non-biased surveys, and always stuck to a radical/anarchist message (I even suggested in one LWV survey that Michigan could fix its economy by basically seceding.)
Had I preached "pragmatic" positions or "transitional" plans would I have done better? I'd say if I had never left the house, I would have done exactly the same. Maybe I would have raised more money with a different message, but at least everyone who was stuck listening to me had a chance to hear a 100% libertarian message. I can only hope it rattles around the back of their heads such that they might see the truth, either sooner or later...
Maybe next time I'll run a public "don't vote for anybody, don't vote at all" campaign, such that we might deny government its "legitimacy" completely. Voting only gives the illusion that you make a difference.
Notice that this isn't a ballot access problem. It's a problem that there is a certain third-party base vote out there to be collected, and not much more--no matter what you do.
Daniel's suggestion is therefore realistic: stay true to your message and hope that it echoes even after the election.
Going to run as a Libertarian--then really run as one. Likewise a Green or a Constitutionalist.
I think, perhaps, that the 2008 election was something of an anomaly: open presidency, highly organized Democratic campaign that massed both enthusiasm and unprecedented amounts of money, and a GOPer campaign that virtually tanked itself but still managed to place a putative partial Libertarian on the ticket.
2010 will be a bye-year--usually a bad time for the incumbents of the ruling party, and 2012 may well see some of the luster flake off the Change we can believe in signs. I'm not suggesting that we're going to take Congress or the White House in 2012, but that there will potentially be a larger uncommitted or independent vote up for grabs than we have seen in a long time.
Yet Daniel's comments really echo in my head; how do we reach more than 1% without presenting a message that simply isn't Libertarian.
I do believe there is an answer out there ,,,