The Spoiler Effect

Third-party candidates may take key votes from Obama, McCain

While the next president of the United States is expected to be either Democratic Sen. Barack Obama or Republican Sen. John McCain, a trio of third-party candidates stands to make their own mark on the 2008 presidential election, possibly pulling votes from the two frontrunners in states that could be instrumental in deciding the election.

There are certain swing states that are up for grabs by either candidate, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Montana says Robert Thompson, assistant professor of ethnic studies and African American studies at Oregon State University. Since Obama and McCain each need as many votes as they can get in those states in particular, the impact of those running outside of the Republican and Democratic parties may be particularly strong there.

Each of the third-party candidates running in the 2008 election—Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader, and Bob Barr—is building his or her presidential run on past political successes.

Cynthia McKinney, running on behalf of the Green Party, was Georgia’s first African American congresswoman, serving as a Democrat from 1992 until she was defeated in 2002 by Denise Majette. McKinney returned to Congress between 2005 and 2007.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has previously thrown his hat in the race for president, running as an Independent. Nader has run twice before, including in 2000, when, according to many political experts, he pulled key votes away from Al Gore in Florida, helping to pave the way for George W. Bush’s presidential victory.

Bob Barr, the Libertarian presidential candidate, is a former Georgia congressman who served in the House of Representatives as a Republican from 1995 to 2003.

Of the three, Barr is expected to make the biggest impact on the race, possibly pulling key Republican voters away from McCain. “The Libertarian Party is an offshoot of the conservative movement, and a lot of people do not like McCain or think he’s a true conservative,” says Hanes Walton Jr., professor of Afro- American and African studies and political science at the University of Michigan and author of Invisible Politics: Black Political Behavior. With his deep Republican roots, Barr may “attract those disgruntled voters who aren’t happy with McCain,” Walton adds. The beneficiary of an effective Barr campaign would be Obama, who stands a better chance of winning the White House if some of McCain’s constituents vote instead for Barr, political strategists say.

Though Nader took Democratic votes away from Gore in 2000, Obama isn’t likely to be hurt by his campaign since Nader is expected to play less of a role than in years before, Walton says. “Ralph Nader has been losing ground, and he is not the force he used to be when he affected the outcome of the 2000 election,” Walton adds. “He did worse in 2004 than he did in 2000, which is another indicator that he won’t be the factor that he once was.”

The lack of media coverage being given to McKinney’s campaign suggests that her run will have the smallest impact on the election, Thompson notes. “There’s nothing [written] about

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