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Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party candidate for prez 2012
Republicans tried but failed in all but two states to keep newly minted Libertarian Gary Johnson off the ballot.
The worry in the Mitt Romney camp is that in a few close must-have states such as Florida, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson could draw a tiny percentage of the vote, but enough to give President Obama the edge. That's why the party fought so hard to keep Johnson off the ballot in several states, including Pennsylvania, where Team Johnson charged that Republicans crossed the line into illegal activity in an effort that was unsuccessful. Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, will appear on the ballot in 48 states and the District of Columbia. Republicans only managed to keep him off the ballot in Michigan, which they (incorrectly) viewed as a potential swing state, and Oklahoma, which is so red it glows crimson.

Johnson is, like most third-party candidates in the past, just a blip in the polls. But even though he sees himself as a problem for both parties, with the potential of drawing votes from both Romney and Obama, it's the Republicans he was one of until he lost the fight for the nomination who are worried about his impact in Florida, Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Iowa and Nevada.

Republicans are also concerned that Constitution Party presidential candidate Virgil Goode, a former Congressman from Virginia who is on the ballot in half the states, could shave off Romney votes on the Right. In the battleground state of Virginia that could make a difference.

Most of the time, the third-party spoiler effect comes from the Left, as it did from the Greens in 2000. The Greens and their candidate, Ralph Nader, received far more votes than the official margin of 537 between Al Gore and George W. Bush in 2000. The Supreme Court gave the presidency to Bush, but Democrats argue that there would have been no involvement of the court had Nader not siphoned off votes they believe Democrats would have received most of. Democrats got Nader off the Pennsylvania ballot in 2004, when he ran as an independent.

But for Romney, the threat, if there really is one, comes from the Right. In the case of the Libertarians, that's complicated because Johnson is further Right on economic issues than Romney but liberal on social issues such as marriage equality and legalizing marijuana for recreational use. He is also far to left of the GOP candidate on matters of national defense, having supported a cut on Pentagon spending of nearly half its budget:

The Republican efforts to impede Mr. Johnson’s candidacy have drawn charges of spying and coercion from Libertarians and countercharges from Republicans that the party had resorted to fraud while accepting secret help from Democrats.

Democrats and Obama campaign officials deny any such involvement. But Mr. Johnson has been receiving critical help from Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative once so committed to his party that he has a tattoo of President Richard M. Nixon on his back. [...]

Mr. Johnson credited Mr. Stone—who helped organize for Mr. Bush the so-called Brooks Brothers riot that temporarily shut down the presidential election recount in Miami-Dade in 2000—with helping him navigate his way through the challenges, and with overall advice.

The Pennsylvania ballot-blocking effort was the GOP's final effort in such attempts across the nation this year. In 2004, the Libertarian candidate, Michael Badnarik, won 0.4 percent of the vote in the state. In 2008, Libertarian Bob Barr won 0.3 percent.  Even if Johnson were to triple that, it would be a teensy slice of the millions of Pennsylvanians who will be casting ballots. The only way that becomes more than a blip, in Pennsylvania and in that handful of other potential swing states, is if the vote between Obama and Romney is extremely close. Despite Johnson's own claim that he will take votes from both candidates, the majority who will vote for him are Republicans. Despite all their efforts, there is nothing that Team Romney can do about that.

•••

11:04 AM PT: In Colorado Nevada, the presence of Johnson on the ballot may hurt Obama more than Romney. Polling by PPP shows Johnson getting three percent of the vote, with most of it apparently coming from people who would otherwise be Obama supporters.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Mon Oct 15, 2012 at 10:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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