Democratic governor-elect Bev Perdue narrowly edged out Republican Pat McCrory to become the first woman elected to the Governor’s Mansion in North Carolina history. Meanwhile, third-place finisher Mike Munger, Libertarian candidate for governor, achieved an equally impressive victory on Tuesday. In drawing 120,000 votes, the highest count for a third-party candidate in North Carolina history, Munger has earned his party automatic placement on the ballot for the next four years.

According to North Carolina’s ballot access laws, a statewide candidate had to secure 2 percent of the vote this year for Libertarians to avoid costly signature requirements to stay on the ballot. While just 25,000 (or, 0.6 percent) voted for Barr in North Carolina, Munger drew 2.9 percent of the vote.

At the University Club in Raleigh, Munger celebrated with campaign staffers and volunteers, and announced that he would run in 2010 for State Senate District 15, currently held by Republican Sen. Neal Hunt. Munger made the announcement after standing at a lectern and allowing a smile while Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” blasted over the PA. Munger, who clapped over his head during the extended drum-and-vocals chorus, printed lyrics on sheets distributed over white tablecloth at the catered event.

“I wanted 5 percent, and I wanted to make a difference in the outcome,” he told the Indy after the speech, saying he was disappointed. Sweat was dripping down his forehead, and he had a cough from jumping in the ocean at the end of a three-day campaign tour across Highway 64. “I want both of the state-sponsored parties to feel like they’ve been stung, for their refusal to be accountable to the people.”

During a League of Women Voters debate featuring all three candidates, Munger reminded viewers that he was the only candidate to support gay marriage and to oppose the death penalty. Unlike Barr, who courted disgruntled conservatives, Munger appealed to liberals: Before the Election, Public Policy Polling reported that 60 percent of Munger supporters also planned to vote for Barack Obama. Munger said that this disconnect contributed to his high vote count, but that the close gubernatorial race prevented others from “voting their conscience.”

“A lot of people who voted for me felt there was no real difference between Bev and Pat, because she was not really a liberal,” he said. “They might prefer the Democratic Party, but they were willing to take a risk, because they thought she’d abandoned all the liberal principles that they actually cherished.”

Munger said that, unlike McCrory, Perdue had never expressed a willingness to reform ballot access laws, but that she had reached out to him to discuss policy.

“She said she at least wanted to talk to me after the election to get my thoughts on transportation and education. We may have lunch sometime,” Munger said.

But more important than his personal influence, Munger insisted, was reforming ballot access laws and winning local elections. Munger said that he hoped to expand active Libertarian membership to 20 counties, from three, and that he wanted “a bunch of people” to run in 2010.

Dismissing Ralph Nader’s recent runs for president, he said the only way for third parties to be relevant is to build a grassroots network at the state level.

“I’m doing this, because that’s what North Carolina says we have to do, to stay on the ballot. This is the first step; it’s not the last step,” he said.

Yet following the excitement of Obama’s impending victory, Munger allowed that he and his party, may become irrelevant.

“I really hope that Obama puts us out of business, by making us unnecessary,” he said, citing the possibility of Obama rolling back the Bush administration’s dismantling of civil liberties. “But I’m not confident.”