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Salena Zito: Third-Party Candidates Could Play 'Spoiler' to Trump and Clinton

Salena Zito: Third-Party Candidates Could Play 'Spoiler' to Trump and Clinton

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson (AP)

By    |   Thursday, 29 September 2016 06:05 PM

Third-party candidates in presidential elections throughout history have consistently played "the spoiler" since the late 1800s, when the two-party system took hold in the United States.

In 1912, former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt — dissatisfied with his hand-picked successor, William Howard Taft — split from an already fractured Republican Party, pulled together a renegade run and became the last third-party candidate to win more electoral votes than a major party contender.

Democrat Woodrow Wilson won. Taft finished third, behind Roosevelt.

In 1968, Democrat George Wallace mounted an independent run.

The Alabama governor, a segregationist who ran in the same year that Republican Richard Nixon and Democrat Hubert Humphrey faced off, won five states and 46 Electoral College votes.

Texas-born billionaire Ross Perot mounted a chart-happy campaign in 1992.

A former business executive, Perot successfully captured enough voter dissatisfaction with incumbent Republican President George H.W. Bush for reneging on promises not to raise taxes — coupled with the long slog of the recession — that he earned a spot in the debates with Bush and the Democratic governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton.

He ultimately won 19 percent of the popular vote but no electoral votes — but convincingly had an impact on Bush re-election chances, ushering Clinton into the White House.

The last third-party candidate to "spoil" their party of origin's victory was Ralph Nader.

In 2000, the longtime consumer advocate ran on the Green Party ticket — receiving only 2.7 percent of the popular vote but nearly 100,000 votes in Florida, which George W. Bush eventually won in a squeaker by just 537 votes in a case that ultimately reached the Supreme Court.

This year's contest between Clinton and Trump has two third-party candidates who have developed a loyal following especially among young people.

Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, is running on the Libertarian ticket, and Dr. Jill Stein is on the Green Party ticket.

"Johnson may only be able to carry 2 or 3 percent of the vote nationally — but in states like New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire, he may take away Republican votes that are unhappy with Trump from Clinton," said David Pietrusza, a New York-based presidential historian.

"They could also impact the much-sought-after youth vote that Clinton needs to meet the turnout of the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012," he said.

However, Pietrusza said, one or both outside candidates could play the role of the spoiler this year.

"I am just not sure which candidate they hurt the most, Trump or Clinton," he said.

Johnson has struggled in the national spotlight recently.

Two weeks ago, he was asked on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" about the conflict in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

"What is Aleppo?" Johnson responded.

On Wednesday, Chris Matthews asked Johnson during a live town hall on the same network with his vice-presidential pick Bill Weld to name a foreign leader whom he respects.

"Any one of the continents, any country," Matthews prodded. "Name one foreign leader that your respect and look up to. Anybody."

Johnson visibly struggled and sighed deeply with each push.

"I guess I'm having an Aleppo moment," he answered, referencing his previous gaffe.

"It is such an odd year that it is fairly difficult to know if any of these mistakes will have any bearing in loss of support for him," Pietrusza said.

Both major-party candidates suffer from personal likeability issues, he said.

"Young people especially just might overlook this because they truly have not developed an attachment to a party brand," Pietrusza added. "They simply do not care if their vote will 'spoil' one candidate or the other."

RealClearPolitics averages show Johnson in a very slim margin — taking most of his support away from Clinton than Trump.

In the two-way-race average of national polls with neither Stein nor Johnson included, Clinton tops Trump by 2.8 percent.

Add Johnson, and her lead drops to 2.1 points. Clinton also leads Trump by 2.1 percent when Johnson and Green Party's Stein are included.

The bottom line is that third-party candidates still have the "spoil effect" on candidates, though typically that impact is on the incumbent — or if in an open race, the candidate whose party is in power and they are seeking a third term.

Johnson is a parking lot for many people who don't want to vote for Donald Trump but can't imagine casting a vote for Hillary Clinton, said Bruce Haynes, a GOP media consultant and managing partner of Purple Strategies.

"They are white, college-educated women who oppose Clinton's policies and millennials who cannot abide Clinton’s representation of the status quo," he said.

They cannot vote for Trump either, so he becomes the socially acceptable alternative.

Johnson is different than recent third-party candidates like Nader and Perot, Haynes added.

"He is not the rapid left wing of the Democratic Party who believes that Gore is not liberal enough and that he is not the conservative centrist who voters flocked to because of Bush breaking his 'no new taxes' pledge," he said.

The risk for Clinton in her attempt to rebuild the Obama coalition with Johnson is that she needs every vote she can get, Haynes said, because millennials and African Americans are not as enthusiastic about her candidacy.

That is why Michelle Obama spoke at two universities in Pennsylvania this week, warning her young audiences not to "waste" their vote and to support Clinton, he said.

"She needs Johnson's supporters. The campaign knows that and is telegraphing that every way they can.

"They know that Trump is bringing in some new voters and picking off Democrats," Haynes said.

Johnson has had his gaffes and also demonstrated that he is not experienced or knowledgeable on foreign policy, he said, "but he is a safe place to put your vote if you are unsatisfied with Trump and Clinton."

And he could also spoil Clinton if this remains a tight race.

Salena Zito covers national politics for Newsmax.

© 2018 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

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Third-party candidates in presidential elections throughout history have consistently played "the spoiler" since the late 1800s, when the two-party system took hold in the United States.
third, party, candidates, spoiler
Thursday, 29 September 2016 06:05 PM
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