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Could a Third Party Candidate Naderize President Obama?

10/29/2012 12:55 pm ET | Updated Dec 29, 2012

At first glance their numbers are pathetic. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein registers 3 percent of the vote nationally. Peace and Freedom Party candidate Roseanne Barr registers about the same. Justice Party presidential candidate, former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson is seemingly too insignificant to even rate any numbers count. But the numbers don't tell the potential danger they pose to President Obama. Stein is on the ballot in a fair number of states, and Barr is on the ballot in five states. But the alarm bells rang over their candidacies in Ohio, Virginia, Iowa, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Florida. These are the states that will decide the election. In a CNN/ ORC International poll, Stein is projected to get about 1 percent of the vote in Ohio. Almost certainly she and Barr will get a handful of votes in Florida as well.

One need look no further than the 1992 and 2000 presidential elections to see that that handful of votes could be huge. The conventional wisdom is that Bill Clinton would have routed GOP President George Bush Sr. in 1992 whether maverick candidate Ross Perot was in the race or not. The rotten economy would have done Bush in. There's some truth to that. But Perot did have an impact.

Some exit polls showed that Perot voters were equally divided in their party allegiance and political sentiments between Clinton and Bush, but other numbers showed that Perot got a large percentage of his votes from Reagan/Bush Republicans. This meant that these voters were less likely to vote for Democrat Clinton if Perot had not been in the race. Perot hurt Bush precisely because he came at him as a maverick, anti-beltway establishment challenger. In reality Perot probably siphoned off only a small number of votes but they were important. Then there was Ralph Nader in 2000.

Nader apologists still adamantly reject any notion that their man tossed Florida and the 2000 election to George W. Bush. They claim that Bush still would not have gotten the 94,000 votes Nader got and Democratic presidential rival Al Gore would have still lost the state. This is political denial taken to the nth degree. Bush officially was credited with a 500-plus vote edge over Gore. Simple math and common sense says that the overwhelming majority of Nader voters would not have voted for Bush, and if Nader had not been on the ballot a considerable number of them would have voted and not opted to stay home out as Naderites claim. And finally, if just 1 percent of the Nader vote went to Gore, he, not Bush, would have had the razor-thin margin of votes over Bush to assure victory and the White House.

There are nearly 8 million registered voters in Ohio, and Stein's projected 1 percent of the vote total there would give her nearly 80,000 votes. Obama almost certainly would get a fair number of those votes if Stein weren't on the ballot there. This may not mean anything when the election dust finally settles in the Ohio count. But then again it might, particularly with some projections that the entire presidential election could come down to as few as two Ohio counties. This again underscores the looming titanic fight that the GOP and the Democrats and the Romney and Obama campaigns are waging over every individual vote. The presidential election has been reduced from a major broad front war to a house by house fight. It's seemingly that close.

Nader and a handful of others tried at one point to get a name Democrat to mount a primary challenge against Obama. There were no takers among Democrats for the good reason that this would have proved damaging, divisive, and given the GOP endless talking points to hammer Obama on in the general election showdown.

Stein, Barr, and Anderson, but especially Stein, have credible and even on some points admirable positions on jobs, climate change, progressive taxing, the stout defense of women's and civil right and liberties, hacking away corporate domination of elections, and a quick end to the war in Afghanistan. In any other election, the third-party candidates would be applauded by millions of Americans and even get their votes, and deserve to get their votes. But this election is not that election. Romney has made sure of that. He has made it his political casus belli that this election is an election that presents two diametrically different philosophies about politics, government, values, and the future direction of the country. There's a powerful, ultraconservative, top heavy religious fundamentalist Tea Party movement that's there to make sure Romney means what he says if he bags the White House.

This possibility alone is far more than enough to cast a nervous eye on the handful of votes that the third-party candidates could siphon from Obama. This would give even some of the most hard-line third party supporters something that they would dread. That's a GOP White House.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent political commentator on MSNBC and a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the author of How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.

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