Third-party threat: It's not just Nader
ST. PAUL, MINN.
The hot topic in handicapping the presidential election is whether independent candidate Ralph Nader will be the spoiler - again - by winning a small but decisive percentage of the vote in an evenly divided country.Skip to next paragraph
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But Mr. Nader is not the only third party candidate who could sway the electorate significantly enough to change history - as he did in 2000 by siphoning off liberal voters from Al Gore and as Ross Perot did in 1992 and 1996 by taking conservative votes from the GOP candidate.
A Humphrey Institute Survey found in February that 20 percent of voters are disaffected fromthe two major parties, and a significant number of them could be tapped by gifted candidates running as independent or Libertarian - if these candidates received the kind of press attention that Nader has attracted.
While Nader hurts the presumed Democratic nominee John Kerry, voters open to conservative third-party candidates who promote small government and criticize ballooning government budget deficits pose a significant threat to President Bush's reelection effort. Pundits have ignored the importance of the third-party swing vote, but the White House has not, working hard to head off damaging defections.
Indeed, these small-government conservatives who are disenchanted with the major parties made a real mark in the 2002 elections: 2 percent or more of voters in 15 gubernatorial and US Senate elections in 2002 cast their ballots for the Libertarian Party. And candidates running as independents cleared the 2 percent mark in seven other states. Numbers like these could be a decisive factor in a close contest between Messrs. Bush and Kerry.
Third-party candidates will have their greatest impact in critical battleground states in this year's presidential election.
While recent successes of the Green Party in New Mexico, Oregon, and elsewhere dominate political talk of Nader as a Kerry spoiler, far less attention has been devoted to the potential of Libertarian and independent successes to drain conservative votes from Bush in swing states. In Wisconsin, where Bush narrowly lost in 2000, the Libertarian candidate in the 2002 gubernatorial context took an impressive 10.5 percent, enough to help Democrat Jim Doyle break the four-term Republican hold on the state house. In Nevada, where the president prevailed by just 3 percent in 2000, the Libertarian and two candidates running as independents took a total of 4 percent of the vote in the 2002 gubernatorial race. Bush took New Hampshire by about 1 percent in 2000 - but votes for Libertarian candidates in the 2002 gubernatorial and US Senate races there totaled more. And in Missouri, another battleground state expected to be narrowly decided in November, the Libertarian candidate's 1 percent in the 2002 US Senate race nearly upended Republican Jim Talent's razor-close win over Democrat Jean Carnahan. In Ohio, the US Senate candidate for the Natural Law Party took 4 percent in 2002. Minnesota's unusually strong support for Ross Perot's campaigns in the 1990s and its election of Jesse Ventura as governor in 1998 far surpass Nader's showings there.