In 3rd Party Candidates, Obama Team Sees Promise

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"People on the right side of the spectrum are so intent on beating this president that they will see a vote for a Gary Johnson or a Virgil Goode as nothing more than a vote to re-elect Barack Obama," Romney political director Rich Beeson said.

Moreover, Beeson said, Obama might be vulnerable among disgruntled liberals who might be attracted to Johnson's libertarian social views.

"I think he's going to lose some on the left and at the end of the day you assume that that's a wash and it's back to being a one-to-one race," Beeson said. "Right now it is an interesting story line, but as we get closer to the election, I think these things tend to sort of fall away and you have the bulk of the electorate focused on the two primary party candidates."

A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 34 percent of Romney voters support him strongly whereas 64 percent of Obama supporters say they back him strongly. That could mean Romney voters could switch allegiance to a third-party candidate more easily.

Obama advisers say they are not doing anything to help either Goode or Johnson secure positions on the ballots of key states and they don't plan to do anything to assist their candidacies.

Johnson has encountered a challenge in Michigan from the state's Republican attorney general, who has declared him ineligible to appear on that state's ballot. Johnson has an innovative "Plan B": using another Gary E. Johnson who has volunteered to have his name placed on the Libertarian Party ticket in Michigan.

Goode needs 10,000 signatures to qualify for the Virginia ballot. He has collected 14,000 signatures and is gathering more to pad his number by the state's Aug. 24 deadline. He says no Republican officials have talked to him about the race, let alone sought to discourage his presence on the Virginia ballot.

Goode and Johnson believe that in the end they will pull votes from both sides and that they will attract independent voters who have no interest in voting for either major party candidate.

Indeed, a Pew Research Center poll in in June found that majorities of independent voters view both parties unfavorably.

"We hope to get votes from people who are dissatisfied with both," Goode said, noting that he has received encouragement from conservative Democrats as well as Republicans.

Johnson says his effect on the race depends on the state. "When you look at the polling, in New Mexico, for example, I take more votes away from Obama," he said. "In North Carolina I take more votes away from Romney. I think that's a mixed bag."

Johnson, for one, doesn't mind the attention that comes with being seen as a potential spoiler.

"If I were to get tagged with a spoiler role in this, that would be terrific," he said. "That would bring a lot of focus to what I'm doing."

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