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, doesn’t even rate a number count.
But the numbers don’t tell the potential danger they pose to President Obama. Stein will appear on almost 85 percent of the ballots and Barr is on the ballot in five states. But the alarm bells ring 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 a handful of votes could be pivotal. 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.
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 reject any notion that their man tossed Florida and the 2000 election to George W. Bush. They claim that Bush would not have gotten the 94,000 votes Nader got and that Democratic presidential rival Al Gore would have still lost the state.
Officially, Bush 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 for Gore and not opted to stay home as Naderites claim.
If just 1 percent of the Nader vote went to Gore, Gore 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 wasn’t on the ballot. This may not mean anything when the election dust finally settles in Ohio, but then again it might.
There are some projections that the entire presidential election could come down to as few as two Ohio counties. This again underscores the titanic fight that 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 and divisive.
Stein, Barr, and Anderson, but especially Stein, have credible and sometimes admirable positions on jobs, climate change and progressive taxing. In another election, these third-party candidates would be deservedly applauded by millions of Americans and 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 present two diametrically different philosophies about politics, government, values and the future direction of the country. There’s also a powerful, ultraconservative, top-heavy religious fundamentalist Tea Party movement in place 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: A GOP White House.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.