Why Ron Paul (Probably) Won't Leave the GOP

Despite Paul's insistence he has no plans to run as a third party candidate, press buzz continues.

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Rep. Ron Paul is "99.9999, decimal over the nine" percent sure he won't run as a third party candidate, says his national campaign chairman Jesse Benton. Paul said yesterday on CNN's State of the Union that he has "no plans whatsoever to do it," yet some media outlets channeled Lloyd Christmas from Dumb & Dumber in their response: So you're tellin' me there's a chance!

[Read: Ron Paul $1 Trillion Cut Plan Targets Five Cabinet Departments.]

But Benton says taking Paul's words as a suggestion he might leave the GOP is ridiculous due to the logistical hurdles—and the fact that Paul is committed to staying in the Republican Party. News outlets are "trying to make a story where there isn't one," Benton says. "It's a complete nonissue."

Hypothetically, Paul could run under either the Libertarian Party, as he did in 1988 and where he enjoys great support, or the Americans Elect group, which is working to get a slot on ballots in all 50 states for a candidate Americans nominate through Americanselect.org.

But one logistical challenge to a Paul third-party run is the early May date of the Libertarian Party's convention, just over halfway through Republican primary season.

Another is the existence of sore loser laws, state laws which forbid a person from running in the primary under one party and in the general under another. But these don't present a huge legal barrier to a third-party run, just a timing barrier, according to Richard Winger, publisher of the newsletter Ballot Access News and expert on ballot access legal issues, particularly for third-party candidates. "Sometimes people think if you ran in the presidential primary, then you can't get on the ballot under another label in November," he says. "That's almost entirely not true."

Winger points to John Anderson's unsuccessful run in 1980, against then President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Anderson withdrew in April from the Republican primary race and was able to get on the November ballot in all 50 states as an Independent.

But there are four states that maintain their "sore loser laws" would apply to presidential candidates, according to Anderson: Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota, Ohio, and Texas. These laws might be overturned in the courts, but to avoid pesky legal fights, Winger explains that since Texas and Mississippi both have primaries in March, Paul would have to drop out of the Republican race by mid-January. That would mean giving up after only Iowa and New Hampshire. "That's a big problem," Anderson says.

[Read: Ron Paul sees a path to Super Tuesday success.]

Despite the hurdles, Paul's notoriously loyal and fierce supporters aren't giving up, and this media buzz is probably welcome news for some of them. The national Libertarian Party's executive director Wes Benedict points out that national party staff doesn't directly urge candidates to run, but says he would be happy if Paul came over, though he admits that scenario is unlikely since Paul enjoys a more publicized platform in the Republican primary.

"He'd certainly win the Libertarian nomination," Benedict says, explaining that he's always getting E-mails and phone calls suggesting the party should recruit Paul. "'Just a thought—the GOP won't nominate Ron Paul,'" Benedict laughs as he reads his latest E-mail. "'Perhaps you should secretly reach out to him and offer the Libertarian nomination?'"

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