Could Gary Johnson Be the Spoiler in the Presidential Race?

The Libertarian Party candidate blasts both Romney and Obama.

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Excluded from the second presidential debate Tuesday night, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson is escalating his criticism of the major-party candidates and arguing that there is relatively little difference between them.

Johnson, who was the Republican governor of New Mexico for eight years, said GOP candidate Mitt Romney showed that he is "without one molecule of brain" based on his support for building a fence across the U.S.-Mexican border. Johnson argued that such a fence "would be wacky nuts."  Johnson also told Salon that President Obama "is as militaristic as President Bush, as militaristic a president as we have ever had."

[READ: Romney, Obama Spar in Debate With No Knockout Blows

Among Johnson's other positions are support for legalizing marijuana and for same-sex marriage. He also wants to "slash Medicare spending," and have the United States "get out of Afghanistan tomorrow, bring the troops home." And he favors eliminating the income tax, the corporate tax, and the IRS, and "replacing all of that with one federal consumption tax."

Some Johnson supporters are increasingly convinced that he could divert enough votes from Romney to throw the November 6 election to Obama.

Republican strategists say the Johnson forces are over-estimating their potential impact and that Johnson will be what Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus calls a "nonfactor."

But other GOP strategists point out that even a small number of votes for Johnson in key states where the Obama-Romney race is close could swing the election. It's generally thought that Johnson could pull more votes from Romney in places such as Nevada, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, but he could also hurt Obama in Colorado and New Mexico.

The Libertarian Party has qualified for the ballot in 48 states and the District of Columbia.

Johnson was also excluded from the first presidential debate nearly two weeks ago because the commission organizing the debates has ruled that he needs 15 percent support in national polls, and he falls far short of that.

Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," for usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com or on Facebook and Twitter.