Disastrous stretch for Gary Johnson gives boost to Clinton

Disastrous stretch for Gary Johnson gives boost to Clinton
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Libertarian presidential nominee Gary JohnsonGary Earl JohnsonPotential GOP primary challenger: Trump's 'contempt for the American people' behind possible bid The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Kidney Care Partners — Trump escalates border fight with emergency declaration Former Mass. governor takes step toward Trump primary challenge MORE is fading in the polls, giving a boost to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Former senators launching effort to help Dems win rural votes Biden's announcement was a general election message, says political analyst MORE.

Johnson has suffered through weeks of terrible headlines that have raised questions about his fitness to be commander in chief.

Most notably, the former New Mexico governor couldn’t name a foreign leader he respected in one television interview and in another asked, “What is Aleppo?” in response to a question about the besieged Syrian city.

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Democrats have gone on the attack, using Clinton surrogates President Obama and Sen. Bernie SandersBernard (Bernie) SandersElection analyst says Biden could face uphill battle attracting small-dollar donors Gillibrand 'not worried' about being 'discounted' in 2020 race Biden's sloppy launch may cost him MORE (I-Vt.) to make the argument that a vote for Johnson is a vote for Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpForget the spin: Five unrefuted Mueller Report revelations Lara Trump: Merkel admitting migrants 'one of the worst things that ever happened to Germany' Financial satisfaction hits record high: survey MORE.

Johnson has also received rougher treatment from the press.

Beyond the combative interviews on MSNBC raising questions about his foreign policy credentials, the left-leaning Huffington Post published a story on Thursday with the headline “Ralph Nader supporters warn third-party voters: Don’t make the same mistake!”

In it, voters who backed the Green Party candidate in 2000 voiced regret that they might have contributed to Republican George W. Bush’s victory over Democrat Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreThe Memo: Harris move shows shift in politics of gun control 20 years after Columbine, Dems bullish on gun reform Lobbying world MORE.

The backlash against Johnson comes after Democrats watched with alarm as polls between Clinton and Trump tightened in August and early September. The surveys showed Clinton failing to win over left-leaning independents and millennials, who have been flirting with Johnson and Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

But in recent weeks, there has been a clear softening of support for Johnson that has coincided with Clinton opening up a healthy lead over Trump.

Johnson once routinely pulled double-digit support in the national polls.

He took between 10 and 12 percent support in nine polls conducted in August.

In the first three weeks of September, seven national surveys put Johnson in double-digit territory. He topped out at 13 percent support — an average of 15 percent across five national polls selected by the Commission on Presidential Debates is required to qualify for the debates — in a Quinnipiac University survey conducted between Sept. 8 and Sept. 13.

On Sept. 14, Johnson reached his highest point in the RealClearPolitics average, at 9.2 percent. That corresponded with the closest point of the race between Trump and Clinton, who were at the time separated by fewer than 2 points nationally.

It has been a downward trend for Johnson ever since.

He has not hit double-digits in the 16 national polls conducted since the first presidential debate on Sept. 25.

In that time, Clinton has nearly doubled her lead in the RCP average to 3.8 points over Trump, as Johnson has receded to an average of 7.4 percent support.

That trend has also manifested in purple states out West, where Johnson’s impact on the race could be especially damaging to Clinton.

In Colorado, a state that had long looked like a lock for Clinton, Trump swung to a 1-point lead in a late September CNN-ORC poll that put Johnson at 13 percent.

The two surveys of the state conducted in October found Clinton ahead by 11 points, with Johnson’s support between 7 percent and 10 percent.

And in Nevada, Trump led four polls conducted in early September that had Johnson taking between 8 and 11 percent support. Clinton has led the last three polls of the state, with Johnson’s support reduced to between 5 and 8 percent.

“Johnson had settled in that 10 or 11 percent support range, and now it looks like he’s settled lower into that 7 or 8 point range,” said pollster John Zogby. “Some of this is the natural order of things. In competitive races, the third-party candidate always declines, and certainly Clinton has seen a small rise because of it.”

Pollsters note that Johnson is still pulling more support than any third-party candidate has in decades. He remains strong in several battleground states where he could play spoiler, potentially leading to unexpected outcomes or mayhem on Election Day.

“What we’ve found all cycle with Gary Johnson voters is that their support for him was mostly a function of their disliking Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump,” said Public Policy Polling director Tom Jensen. “After the first debate, they may still dislike both Clinton and Trump, but I think it went a long way toward convincing voters on the fence that Clinton is the lesser of two evils.”

There are anomalies, such as Virginia, where Clinton leads Trump comfortably even as Johnson continues to pull between 10 and 15 percent support.

In states where Johnson has not caught on — Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, among them — the race between Trump and Clinton is so close that Johnson’s 5 to 7 percent support could be meaningful on Election Day.

And then there is deep-blue New Mexico, Johnson’s home state, where one recent poll showed Clinton at 35 percent, Trump at 31 percent and Johnson at 24 percent. President Obama carried the state by double-digits in both of his elections.

“The evidence is mixed at the state level on just how much Johnson is fading, but it’s certainly apparent in the national polls ... however it’s less clear who is benefiting most from this change,” said University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Geoffrey Skelley.

Trump has pulled some Republican support away from Johnson, Skelley said, while Clinton may have benefited from drawing on Stein’s small pool of liberal supporters.

With so much volatility, there is still plenty of opportunity for the third-party candidates to wreak havoc, pollsters say.

“This is unseen in decades, so it’s too soon to draw conclusions,” said Zogby. “Johnson hasn’t helped himself, but Clinton can’t rest on her laurels. Johnson still looks like a viable none-of-the-above candidate in a close race if he can hang in there.”