Gary Johnson's 2012 Libertarian run: 4 predictions

The ex-New Mexico governor plans to drop out of the GOP presidential race and run as the Libertarian Party's candidate. Will he split the conservative vote?

Gary Johnson polls at or below 1 percent in most GOP presidential polls, and has elected to make a bid for the Libertarian Party's nomination instead.
(Image credit: Icon SMI/Corbis)

Former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson hasn't exactly taken the 2012 presidential race by storm. He was only invited to two Republican presidential debates, and his poll numbers barely register. So on Dec. 28, Johnson is quitting the GOP presidential race and trying his luck with the Libertarian Party. "The move isn't exactly an ideological stretch," says Julian Brookes in Rolling Stone. "The dude basically is a libertarian." Assuming Johnson wins the Libertarian nomination in May — the party is courting Jesse Ventura and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), too — here are four ways his third-party bid could shape the 2012 contest:

1. He might win a key swing state

Libertarians say this every four years, says Jim Newell at Gawker, but with Johnson, this really "could be the election where their party's candidate breaks through and makes an impact!" He could certainly do something no Libertarian standard-bearer has done in the party's 40-year history: Win a state, says Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic. Pollster PPP included Johnson as a third-party option in a recent poll of New Mexico, and "he'd be competitive in a three-way race" of the key swing state he used to govern. Indeed, in the race for New Mexico's five electoral votes, Johnson trails Mitt Romney by only four points.

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2. Johnson will make Obama's re-election much likelier

Johnson's third-party bid is "great news for President Obama," says Evan McMorris-Santoro at Talking Points Memo. PPP's data shows that just about "any third-party candidate would help Obama" by taking votes from the GOP, and when Johnson specifically was added to a new national poll, he turned a Romney win into a loss. Sure, Obama would lose some of the youth vote to the pro-drug-legalization Johnson. But overall, Johnson's anti-government, libertarian platform would steal many, many more votes from the GOP.

3. Or he'll tip the race to the GOP nominee

"Republicans who fear that any ticket splitting would doom the party's chances" to unseat Obama should relax, says Noah Rothman at PoliticOlogy. Johnson could actually help the GOP. Republicans say they're more predisposed than Democrats to vote for a third-party candidate, but "when it comes time to go into the voting booth, they vote for the GOP nominee." The last time the Libertarian presidential ticket got more than 1 percent of the vote was in 1980, and Ronald Reagan still cruised to victory. Bottom line: "An unpopular Democratic president has slightly more to fear from a centrist candidate or two on the ticket as moderate and centrist voters turn away from the incumbent."

4. Johnson will be a non-factor

The media will continue to ignore Johnson, especially now that he's stepping out of the two-party system, says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. So "I don't expect Gary Johnson to do much better than any other Libertarian Party nominee." Hey, it's not the media's fault Johnson never caught fire, says Jim Geraghty at National Review. It's Johnson's. He polls at 1 percent or less in New Hampshire, the state where he chose to make his stand as a Republican. Let's face it: "Sometimes, a candidate just isn't any good."

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