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Gary Johnson sets third-party pot bubbling as he quits GOP race

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said Wednesday he is quitting the Republican primaries and will run for president as a Libertarian, highlighting the possibility a third-party candidate could impact the 2012 election.

Former New Mexico Governor Governor Gary Johnson (r.) speaks to reporters after announcing he was dropping out of the Republican Presidential nomination race and he would seek the Libertarian nomination for President of the United States during a media event in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Wednesday. California Libertarian congressional candidate Steve Collett is shown at left.

Jane Phillips/Reuters

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Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said Wednesday that he is quitting the Republican primaries and will run for president as a Libertarian, highlighting the possibility a third-party candidate could play a role in deciding the 2012 presidential election.

Governor Johnson was not a factor in the battle between Republican candidates now raging in Iowa. As a result of his meager performance in the polls, he was excluded from all but two of this year’s 15 Republican presidential debates. 

Barring a major surge in his appeal to voters, Johnson’s switch of party affiliation is not likely to have a major nationwide impact. The move could affect the results in the swing state of New Mexico. A Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey there found Johnson could draw 20 to 23 percent of the vote, insuring that President Obama would carry the state with 44 to 45 percent of the vote.

Beyond its implications in New Mexico, Johnson’s move increases the likelihood the 2012 presidential race will feature a stronger than usual third-party showing. Democratic strategist Stanley Greenberg recently predicted “there is going to be a third party candidate” based on high levels of voter dissatisfaction. When Ross Perot made his third party run in 1992, “those were happy times compared to now in terms of the mood of the country,” Greenberg said.  

Greenberg’s view is that “almost any third party helps Obama” by splintering the president’s opposition. He spoke at a recent Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

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