As the 2012 Presidential election enters its final two weeks, and polls show a dead heat in the race for the White House, the biggest enemy for both the Obama and Romney campaigns may not, in fact, be each other.
Along with the Democrat and Republican Party nominees, some lesser known presidential contenders will join them on the ballot November 6th. Despite their lack of recognition amongst most Americans, some of these 3rd party candidates like Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party and Virgil Goode of the Constitution Party may prove detrimental in key swing states for both Obama and Romney.
The danger Johnson and Goode pose lies in their potential to siphon votes from Obama and Romney in critical battleground states like Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado.
Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, is running along a firm anti-government platform in nearly all aspects of society. His call for abolishing the income tax, corporate tax, and IRS and replacing them with a flat, federal consumption tax greatly appeals to conservative fiscalhawks. On the other hand, Johnson is also known to proudly wear a peace-sign t-shirt as he advocates for cuts in defense spending, legalization of marijuana, and same-sex marriage, key issues that resonate with younger voters that may be dissatisfied with Obama.
Johnson poses the most danger to Obama in Nevada where his position in the polls has him at 3%. Meanwhile, Obama leads Romney 49% to 47%. Based on 2008 election totals, Johnson’s 3% would equal roughly 70,000 voters, a critical bloc to take away from Obama’s mere 2% lead.
A recent NBC/WSJ/Marist poll had Obama and Romney tied in Colorado at 48%. Also up for a vote in Colorado is a ballot initiative to effectively legalize marijuana, to which Johnson has firmly attached himself. With the race set in a tie, any young, liberal voter who goes for Johnson is essentially taking away a vote from Obama, giving Romney a potential edge in the final tally.
However, it’s not just Obama who has to fear these “guerilla candidates.” Hop over to the mid-Atlantic, where competition is ablaze for Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. Romney currently leads Obama 48.3% to 46.8%, according to a RCP poll aggregate. Virgil Goode, a 6-term Virginia Congressman, holds a firm no exception policy to illegal immigration. With his Southern Baptist drawl, Goode calls for no concessions to illegal immigrants and a reduction in legal immigration, a far-right stance that resonates with extremely conservative voters concerned with Romney’s moderation on many issues. With Romney leading by just 1.5%, Goode poses a real threat to Republicans in the “Old Dominion State.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has dismissed candidates like Johnson and Goode as “non-factors.” He recently told CNN that he believed voters “are not going to throw their vote away when we have an election here that’s about the future of America…I don’t see that happening.”
It is a bit interesting to note then that Republican leadership went to great lengths in many states to prevent Johnson in particular from getting on the ballot. In Michigan, GOP officials filed a suit against the Johnson campaign after they filed ballot paperwork 3 minutes late. In Pennsylvania, Republicans challenged the Johnson campaign in court on grounds of suspect petition signatures. The case was ruled in Johnson’s favor at the beginning of October.
The trend of 3rd party candidates siphoning votes from the main candidates is nothing new. Republicans were dealt a blow in 1992 when George H.W. Bush lost his reelection bid when Ross Perot garnered 19% of the vote, most of them dissatisfied Republicans.
Moreover, no one will soon forget Ralph Nader winning 97,000 Floridian votes in 2000; votes that could have helped Gore close the 537-vote margin that separated him from Bush.
So while many will say that voting for anyone other than a Republican or Democrat is a wasted vote, Gary Johnson responds, “a wasted vote is voting for someone you don’t believe in. Vote for someone you believe in because that’s how you change politics.”
Something to think about as you pull back that curtain on November 6th.