A flood of head-to-head, Obama-Romney polling flowed forth, since Governor Romney forced Senator Santorum to throw in the towel prior to tomorrow's Pennsylvania primary. The polling flood shows the Obama-Romney horse race is now close, with the President having a slight edge. But those polls have one big problem. They did not include another horse that will be in the race.
Among all the polls, only one--a Public Policy Polling survey last week--included Governor Johnson, the former two-term Governor of New Mexico, who is the probable Libertarian candidate for President.
The PPP poll found Obama with 47%, Romney 42%, and Governor Johnson 6%. The 5-point Obama edge compared to a 3 point lead at 49% to 46%, when Obama was paired just with Romney.
Johnson was drawing two times as many votes from Romney than Obama, though interestingly Johnson's best voting group were voters who described themselves as very liberal. Governor Johnson favors full drug legalization and gay marriage, positions that resonate with very liberal voters.
Governor Johnson would be the most qualified candidate the Libertarian Party has ever run for President. As a two-term Governor, he has more executive government experience than Romney and more than Obama when he ran in 2008. He is also smart and witty, running with nothing to lose, at a time when many voters are upset.
If Johnson draws 6% of the vote, he will get more than 8 million votes. If his share shrinks, as is likely, and he gets 3%, he will still pull about 4 million votes. Many of those could be concentrated in 5 battleground states in the Southwest--New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada--plus New Hampshire.
Still another third party decided on its Presidential candidate over the weekend. Former Congressman Virgil Goode will be the Constitution party candidate and may be a small factor in his home state of Virginia. The Green Party too will have a candidate in 2012, and the Nader candidacy elected George Bush in 2000.
While the 2012 Presidential ballot will have many names on it in some states, at this point, the PPP survey establishes that any poll that does not include Governor Johnson is deeply flawed. Johnson currently moves the national results by about 2 percentage points, an amount that the Obama and Romney campaigns will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to achieve.
The history of Presidential politics is full of campaigns where third party campaigns decide or shape the elections. See Wallace in 1968, Perot in 1992, Nader in 2000, or even Anderson in 1980 and Perot again in 1996.
Governor Johnson is on course to add his name to that history. That development is a dark lining in what otherwise were 2 good weeks of polling for Romney.