The group of three dozen voters gathered in Salt Lake City in the Hilton DoubleTree ballroom have a plan to alter the course of American politics.

Libertarians — still a small minority of the American electorate 52 years after the party began — hold the solution to the country’s spiraling debt and division, attendees lamented, if only they could get the country’s attention.

The three presidential candidates at the front of the room — a down-to-earth doctor, an eccentric entrepreneur and an economist-turned-cop — argued they could do just that.

Speaking Friday evening at Utah’s first-ever Libertarian Party presidential nomination debate at the party’s state convention, the unassuming White House hopefuls argued over the best way for a limited-government movement to try to change the shape of the nation come fall 2024.

Libertarians’ plan to stop the two-party system in its tracks

Lars Mapstead, the founder of Friend Finder Networks, laid out his strategy “to send a middle finger to the duopoly” of Republican and Democratic parties by snatching just a few Electoral College votes in Maine and Nebraska, where electors are allocated proportionally.

Doing so could prevent either of the major party candidates from securing the 270 votes needed to win and would turn the outcome of the election over to the U.S. House of Representatives where each state delegation would get one vote to cast for their preferred candidate. The candidate who received a majority (26) of states would become the next president.

“I’m trying to wake people up to getting rid of the Democrats and the Republicans and saying that we can actually throw a wrench into this election system,” Mapstead said. “This would get people in America to Google ‘What is a Libertarian?’”

As the party nominee, Mapstead said he would commit $1 million of his own money to spread the “Stop 270″ message — a proposal that would “achieve victory for a Libertarian Party.”

But just what victory means for a party whose best-ever showing was 3.3% of the popular vote in 2016 was itself a subject of debate among the candidates.

“Our campaign is not about gimmicks,” said Mike ter Maat, an economics professor and former Florida police officer. “This is about disrupting the way American politics works.”

This election cycle, maybe more than any other, represents an opportunity for Libertarians to capture the imagination of the American voter, Ter Maat believes. Unlike 2016 or 2020, voters know exactly what they can expect from a Joe Biden or Donald Trump second term.

And as the Republican Party continues its departure from fiscal conservatism and the Democratic Party distances itself from anti-war dovishness, Americans are looking for a third option grounded in budgetary and foreign policy principle ready to present a credible candidate, Ter Maat said.

Is the Libertarian Party on the verge of collapse or rebirth? Depends who you ask

“We are going to be rolling out policy with the expectation that someone is going to pay attention to us because they recognize that our campaign can fulfill this role,” Ter Maat told the assembled Libertarian party members.

The party’s policy proposals don’t have to be extreme — like “end the fed” or “legalize drugs,” or other Libertarian talking points — to get the public’s attention, according to Charles Ballay, a practicing ENT doctor.

“I think this party needs to realize that being a fringe candidate does not work,” Ballay said. “We have the power to say ‘We are the adults in the room.’”

But the candidates’ positions Friday night largely reflected a Libertarian mindset that is alien to much of the political mainstream. Mapstead vowed to leave the president’s 9,000 appointed bureaucratic positions empty. Ter Maat promised to immediately withdraw from NATO. Ballay said the government should completely remove itself from health care.

Will RFK Jr. spoil Libertarians’ attempt to spoil the election?

Another stumbling block to blowing up the 2024 election is Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s intention of doing the same.

Though Kennedy briefly flirted with the idea of seeking the Libertarian Party nomination, he said on Sunday he was “not contemplating joining the Libertarian ticket,” The Hill reported.

Kennedy, who consistently garners 10% support in national polls and recently secured ballot access in key battleground states, threatens to “take a lot of the wind out of” Libertarians’ electoral sails, Ballay said.

But Libertarians would rather stand by their principles of individual autonomy and non-aggression than pursue a populist path to temporary recognition, said Spike Cohen, a well-known activist within libertarianism and the party’s 2020 vice presidential nominee.

“If the Libertarian Party were to abandon libertarianism for a higher share of the vote, then we shouldn’t exist,” he told the Deseret News.

The Libertarian Party presidential debate Friday took place as part of the party’s state convention. The day included various speakers and panels on school choice and the future of the liberty movement.

On Saturday, the state’s party members will elect 14 national delegates to travel to Washington, D.C., on Memorial Day weekend to vote for the party’s next presidential candidate. Unlike their major party counterparts, Libertarian delegates are not bound by a primary or preference poll to vote a certain way at the national convention.

Over thirty candidates beside Mapstead, Ter Maat and Ballay are running for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, including Chase Oliver, a former U.S. Senate candidate who helped cause a runoff in Georgia’s 2022 special election.