Perot, Nader, and now the former, two term Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson.
May was a big month for Johnson that puts him on course to shake up the 2012 Presidential race, as Nader and Perot did respectively in 2000 and 1996. In May, Governor Johnson became the Libertarian Party's nominee for President of the United States; qualified for federal matching funds; and registered some impressive state polling results.
Just in the last 2 weeks, polling has put Johnson's support at 9% in Arizona, 6% in Wisconsin, and 12% in New Mexico, his home state. www.uncoveredpolitics.com/2012/05/24/ppp-survey-shows-johnson-polling-at-9-in-arizona/ and www.reason.com/blog/2012/05/24/reason-rupe-wisconsin-recall-poll-walker. Governor Johnson will be the most successful candidate for President in the Libertarian Party's history, but he could make a bigger mark than that.
His recent polling numbers in Arizona, Wisconsin, and New Mexico mark him as a third party candidate in the same class as Nader in 2000 and Perot in 1996. Unsurprisingly, Johnson's inclusion in polling impacts the Obama versus Romney numbers.
For example, the PPP poll (www.publicpolicypolling.com) of Arizona had the race 50-43, without Johnson, but 45-41-9, with Johnson. A 7-point lead for Romney shrank to 4 points, with Johnson taking about 2 votes from Romney for every vote he claims from Obama's totals. Older polling showed Johnson impacting similarly Virginia.
History, however, would suggest that Johnson's support may actually decline from current levels, when the election nears and voters understand that the third party candidate will not win. Yet, three factors may help Johnson avoid that fate.
First, unlike many third party candidates, Johnson is qualified to be President. He is a former two-term Governor of New Mexico, with more experience and success in government than Governor Romney, and more experience than President Obama when he ran in 2008. He is a serious man who should be taken seriously.
Second, the Ron Paul campaign has successfully spent the last 12 months bringing increased visibility to Libertarian ideals and principles. Unlike the President or Governor Romney, Johnson provides a home for those Ron Paul supporters who are committed to building a Libertarian movement.
Third, the trials and tribulations of the country make 2012 particularly fertile ground and timing for a serious third party effort. Polling shows up to 20% of voters are open to voting for a third party this year.
How much will Johnson impact the unfolding 2012 story? Polls of battleground states, without his inclusion, are useless. He matters a great deal in his home Southwest region and is pulling enough votes to impact the outcome in as many as 15 states around the nation. That makes him a key character in the 2012 drama.