Suzanne Surbeck

Third political parties in the United States have long been part of American history. They even have, at times, played a critical role in the outcome of presidential elections.

In 1912 Theodore Roosevelt, running as a Progressive/Bull Moose Party candidate, split the Republican vote with President William Howard Taft, resulting in an Electoral College landslide victory for Democrat Woodrow Wilson, an election which had profound implications for the United States and the world. During the 2000 election almost 100,000 people voted for Ralph Nader in Florida, splitting the Democratic vote with Al Gore and arguably costing Gore the state and the election.

In 2012 third parties are again making an impact. Current Republican and former Libertarian Presidential candidate Ron Paul, although no longer actively campaigning in the primaries, will continue to seek delegates at the remaining GOP state conventions. Although Paul has no chance of overtaking Republican front-runner Mitt Romney, he and his supporters are intent on having an impact on this election.

Enter Gary Johnson and the 2012 Libertarian Party.

The former New Mexico governor, former Republican Presidential candidate and Mt. Everest climber was named the Libertarian Party standard bearer at their recent Las Vegas convention. It appears very likely that he will be on the ballot in all 50 states. Johnson could have a particular impact in New Mexico, where he could conceivably siphon off enough votes from Romney to give the state to President Obama. In a presidential race where every electoral vote will be crucially important, Johnson’s presence on that state’s ballot could decide the outcome of the 2012 presidential race.

There is no question Johnson could potentially alter the course of the 2012 Presidential election. But how does he change the Libertarian party into a major player, rather than just a spoiler?

The answer, as always with politics, rests with money. Ross Perot’s 1992 and 1996 third party candidacies, for example, were largely financed with his own money. Although Johnson will almost for certain attract Ron Paul’s supporters in the general election, as of now he hasn’t been able to attract the donors in Paul’s Super Pac, Endorse Liberty according to the International Business Times website. Once Romney is officially crowned the Republican nominee, though, Paul’s wealthy donors may very well migrate to Johnson.

The second way Johnson could emerge as a true third party force in this year’s election is through using new technology, particularly since many of his followers, like Paul’s, are young and very well versed in social media, such as Facebook and Twitter. The Johnson campaign has already started making use of these media, recently hosting a Town Hall online video discussion with Johnson and Geoff Neale, national chair of the Libertarian Party.

And the third way, as old fashioned as it may sound, would be for Johnson to put forth a compelling, thoughtful centrist agenda. He is for smaller government, which would attract voters from the right and for gay marriage, which would attract voters from the left. He also supports an end to the war in Afghanistan and a curtailment of future American involvement overseas, which could well attract voters from across the political spectrum. He has a built-in constituency in Ron Paul’s supporters and once Paul officially concedes to Romney, his dedicated volunteers and followers would be a natural fit for Johnson. If Johnson ran as a serious candidate, such as Theodore Roosevelt, rather than a fringe candidate such as Ross Perot, he and his party could have a serious role to play in the outcome of this year’s election.

Money, social media, and standing for something meaningful – a recipe for third party success.