Libertarians on the rise
© Getty Images

The selection on May 29 of former Republican Govs. Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonOn The Trail: Making sense of Super Poll Sunday Polarized campaign leaves little room for third-party hopefuls The Memo: Trump retains narrow path to victory MORE (N.M.) and Bill Weld (Mass.) as the presidential and vice presidential candidates for the Libertarian Party, respectively, provides yet another twist in this unusual election year.


National polls that include Johnson as an option for president show him polling at roughly 10 percent. Many polls that do not include Johnson show presumptive GOP nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump has discussed possible pardons for three eldest children, Kushner: report McCaskill: 'Hypocrisy' for GOP to target Biden nominee's tweets after Trump Biden budget pick sparks battle with GOP Senate MORE in a head-to-head race. However, a Quinnipiac University poll from June 1 has Clinton ahead of Trump by four percentage points (45 percent to 41 perent); any diminution in support for either of them could have a dramatic impact on the outcome of the November election. Another Quinnipiac poll from June 1 shows Clinton at 40 percent, Trump at 38 percent, Johnson at 5 percent and likely Green Party Jill Stein at 3 percent.

Clearly, it is a bit early in the race, and candidates get a huge boost when they are chosen as their party's nominee, as reflected by Trump's poll numbers, and potentially also for Johnson. The fight among the Democrats continues, though, as Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (Vt.) pursues his quixotic quest for the Democratic nomination.

There is no doubt that the country is at a partisan crest, but this is a much more complicated analysis than may readily appear, and is often not discussed when poll results are published.

Ultimately, the key in any presidential election, of course, is the Electoral College. There are always a few swing states; this year we can focus on Ohio and Florida, which have, in fact, determined the outcome of some recent elections. In addition to Ohio and Florida, we can place Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Iowa and North Carolina as "in play," and then the game changes more than a little. Will votes cast for Johnson and Stein tip the scales to essentially take those states out of play and cede them to either Clinton or Trump?

Does the race get even more complicated if, as The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol predicts, a conservative candidate arises? It is hard to imagine that the conservative candidate could be on 50 state ballots and the District of Columbia — like the Libertarian candidate will probably be — but if conservatives focused on the swing states and those in play, then Trump's votes could be further diluted.

This will be a unique experience as we watch the polls. However, I caution against just watching, as one must dig into the polls in order to understand what they actually reflect, versus the top line. I can only imagine that the business and advertising managers in network television are salivating over the opportunity to have at least three, and possibly five, candidates running. This leaves enormous opportunity for continuous news coverage. Social media will be abuzz, as each group feels the pressure and the opportunity that these unusual circumstances will create.

Normally, at this point, it would appropriate to say "good luck" to the candidates, but in this case, I would say "good luck" to the rest of us.

Owens, a former member of Congress representing New York's 21st District, is a partner in the firm of Stafford, Owens, Piller, Murnane, Kelleher & Trombley, PLLC, in Plattsburgh, N.Y.