A field guide to third-party prospects

This was a prime year for a solid third-party run for the White House. Antipathy and disdain for the major party candidates are at historical high levels.

Polls show that far more than half of Americans think a third party is needed.

Do not hold out hope for a breakthrough. None of the “major” third party candidates — those on enough ballots to theoretically win the presidency — will win.

Even though a majority of Americans crave third-party alternatives, when it comes time to vote, they go “R” or “D” and let it be.

{mosads}Plus, they have run lackluster campaigns. Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico in his second lap as a presidential nominee, was double digits in the polls in the summer, acquired a strong running mate in William Weld, former Republican governor of Massachusetts, and looked formidable.

Alas, once Johnson began being quizzed, his eccentric, attractive nature gave way to sound-bite ambush. His “Aleppo” moment and inability to name a world leader he admired was a one-two punch — fairly or unfairly — that caused a pause among many who were considering voting for him.

Johnson is now hovering around 6 percent of the vote nationally. Green Party nominee Jill Stein, also in her second run, is around 2 percent. Historically, third-party candidates wind up with about half of what they poll a month out from the vote; of course, this year has seem many traditional metrics deep-sixed, so that one also may not hold.

Yet while the White House is out of reach, there are at three crucial wins within the grasp of third parties that could honestly give them reason to declare victory on Nov. 9.

1. Matching funds.

If Jonhson snares at least 5 percent of the national vote, Libertarians will qualify for federal funding in the 2020 race. That is very important.

The last times that occurred was when Ross Perot obtained 18.9 percent in 1992 and 8 percent in 1996, which gave the Reform Party matching funds in the subsequent presidential elections.

By comparison, 2000 Green Party nominee Ralph Nader — who was as high as 9 percent in national polls — finished with 2.74 percent, and the Greens struck out.

That may be too high a leap for Johnson, though. Four years ago, he notched just 0.99 percent of the national vote — not even the highest percentage for any Libertarian presidential nominee.

2. Winning a House seat.

Third-party candidates are fiercely competitive in two upstate New York U.S. House seats, a state with a long, viable history of multiple political party lines and races.

In New York’s 21 Congressional District, Green Party nominee Matt Funicello is making his second run for the office against first-term GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik and Republican-turned-Democrat Mile Derrick. Funicello appears to be drawing at least 25 percent of the support in a race many call a toss-up.

“No question there is a lot more interest (from two years ago),” Funicello said in an interview.

He is encouraged by the fact that in the presidential primaries, the district went for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the two outsiders in the GOP and Democratic primaries, respectively. The Green Party also is running candidates for other offices, which Funicello expects will boost support.

“We are the anti-corruption party and (voters) don’t believe either of the other parties,” he said. “They know me; the trust factor is much greater.”

In New York’s 22 District, where second-term GOP Rep. Richard Hanna opted not to seek reelection, the race features Republican Claudia Tenney, Democrat Kim Myers and Upstate Jobs Party/Reform Party nominee Martin Babinec.

Babinec has already scored a huge win: He was endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the first ever for a third-party candidate by the national business group.

“Voters in the 22nd Congressional District have the choice between three candidates, two of which are running on alleged business acumen matched with extreme views. Martin Babinec, on the other hand, offers voters a third option as an independent reformer with a strong background of creating jobs. The U.S. Chamber is proud to stand with the local business community to endorse Martin Babinec,” Eileen Braden, vice president of political affairs and federal relations for the Chamber, said in a statement.

Polls show the race to be a toss-up.

“They go through a vetting process before they make that decision and it is not done casually,” Babinec said. “They recognize what I bring to the area, with what is important and how we can put more jobs back into the district. We are a talent factory. We graduate 100,000 a year and lose about 80,000 to 85,000. We have to address that and create jobs so the next generation does not move away.”

Like in the 21st District, voters in the 22nd District opted for Sanders and Trump in the primaries. Babinec said he is pulling support from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

“By starting this party (Upstate Jobs), we would have the opportunity a couple of years from now to try and make it a statewide party and (with fusion voting) then have the major party candidates approach us,” Babinec said.

3. Winning Electoral College votes.

In what some may see as the oddest location — Utah — a third-party presidential candidate may actually win the state.

However, that comes with a huge asterisk.

On Oct. 19, independent candidate for president Evan McMullin, a Provo, Utah, native, scored his first lead in Utah polls. The poll from Emerson College found McMullin with 31 percent, followed by Republican nominee Donald Trump at 27 percent and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at 24 percent. McMullin’s advantage was at the edge of the 3.9 percent margin of error.

Beehive State voters have displayed prior third-party support. In 1992, Bill Clinton came in third with 24 percent of the vote, behind Republican George H.W. Bush with 47 percent and Perot at 27 percent.

Since 1900, only four third-party candidates have won any states, and three — George Wallace in 1968, Strom Thurmond in 1948 and Robert LaFollette in 1924 — were primarily regional candidates.

Yet there is one cool, quirky footnote that should be mentioned

The last third-party candidate to actually receive an electorial vote was 1972 Libertarian nominee John Hospers. History was also made that year because his running mate, Tonie Nathan, also received an electoral vote: the first female candidate in U.S. history to do.

And while Johnson is not likely to win any electoral votes, he has gone one place no other third-party candidate has gone.

To date, six daily newspapers have endorsed the Johnson/Weld ticket, including such major dailies as the Chicago Tribune, The Detroit News, Richmond Times-Dispatch, the Winston-Salem Journal and the New Hampshire Union Leader.

That’s more than have endorsed Trump.

Victory in any form is sweet.

Squitieri is an award-winning reporter and communications veteran and an adjunct professor at American University and Washington and Jefferson College.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Donald Trump Gary Johnson Hillary Clinton

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