Dude, could pot smokers decide the election – for Mitt Romney?

A marijuana legalization measure on the Colorado ballot – promoted by Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson – could be very important in this close presidential race.

Bernard Thomas/The Herald-Sun/AP
Former two-term governor of New Mexico and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson speaks at Duke University, in Durham N.C., in September.

The Jewish vote, women, Hispanics, even the Scandinavian vote have all been pegged by prognosticators as key swing constituencies in Tuesday’s electoral showdown between President Obama and Mitt Romney.

But what if it’s really pot smokers who decide the next US president, specifically psychedelia enthusiasts in the battleground state of Colorado (nine electoral votes) where pot legalization and dark horse candidate Gary Johnson are both on the ballot?

Far out, right? Maybe not.

Polls suggest that Colorado’s Amendment 64, which would legalize and regulate marijuana much like alcohol, may pass on Tuesday, so legalization will be foremost on the minds of voters in a state now in a statistical deadlock between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney. (Washington and Oregon also have pot legalization referendums on the ballot, but Romney stands little chance in those liberal northwestern enclaves.)

Cover Story: What Americans want from the next president

To thicken the haze, add former New Mexico Governor Johnson running for president as the Libertarian candidate. Johnson, who first supported legalization in 1999, has made Colorado his linchpin, campaigning extensively and paying for robocalls suggesting to Democratic voters that Obama has let them down by going against a 2008 campaign vow to go easy on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The nail-biter for the two campaigns heading into Election Day: Johnson alone may take 1, possibly 2, percent of the Colorado vote, enough to tip the scales – perhaps nationally – for either of the major-party contenders.

“It seems ludicrous that a state referendum on marijuana could influence who gets the codes to America’s nuclear weapons next Jan. 20,” suggests New Republic columnist Walter Shapiro. But “that’s the hallucinogenic wonder of American politics – anything can happen, and all too frequently does.”

Still, if Romney loses Ohio, states like Colorado and New Hampshire could become vital to any chance of winning for the former Massachusetts governor. At first glance – and going by Washington political wisdom – it’s likely that pot smokers or their sympathizers are liberal Democrats, and a sure thing to check Obama’s name on the ballot.

Moreover, given that Republicans have tried to sideline Johnson, it seems the GOP may have the most to lose from the confluence of pot rhetoric in the Mile High City and beyond.

“Around the country, Republican operatives have been making moves to keep Mr. Johnson from becoming their version of Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate whose relatively modest support cut into Al Gore’s 2000 vote arguably enough to help hand the decisive states of Ohio and Florida to George W. Bush,” writes The New York Times.

But watch out for a pot smoker scorned. Colorado is one of 16 states with medical marijuana dispensaries, and users there have voiced their anger and frustration over Obama seemingly abandoning a promise to keep a tight leash on the Department of Justice when it comes to busting pot dispensaries. Instead, the Justice Department has conducted a number of high-profile raids in California and other states since his inauguration.

“In 2008, candidate Obama promised not to use the Justice Department to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it was legal,” goes a Johnson robocall that’s been playing in Colorado. “But the real Obama did just that, more than doubling prosecutions, putting people in prisons and shutting down medical marijuana facilities in Colorado. That’s not the change you wanted on health freedom. But you can still be a force for hope and change by voting for Gary Johnson.”

Indeed, given Colorado’s unique mix of libertarians, free thinkers and, obviously, tokers, the Obama campaign may also have miscalculated voter sentiments as western and mountain states vow to set up a federalist showdown if they vote to legalize recreational marijuana, which will remain illegal under federal law.

“Conventional wisdom … is that the marijuana measure will bring out liberal, Obama-loving hippies, yuppies and crunchies … while the libertarian candidate’s campaign will siphon conservative votes,” writes David Sirota, author of “Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now – Our Culture, Our politics, Our Everything,” on Alternet.org.

But given criticism of Amendment 64 by major-state Democrats and support for the measure from big-name Republicans like former Rep. Tom Tancredo, “it becomes clear,” Mr. Sirota writes, “that the pot initiative could boost voting in ways that don’t correspond to traditional red-versus-blue turnout models and stereotypes.”

Cover Story: What Americans want from the next president

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