The third-party candidate who could derail Mitt Romney

Virgil Goode represented Virginia's 5th District from 1997 until 2009.
Virgil Goode represented Virginia's 5th District from 1997 until 2009.
Posted: August 09, 2012

Bomboy is editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center

A virtually unknown presidential candidate from Virginia could derail Mitt Romney's bid for president. But how rare is it for a third-party candidate to influence a race for president?

Currently, Virgil Goode, the Constitution Party's nominee, has about 9 percent of Virginia's projected vote in the upcoming November election, according to polling data.

With Mitt Romney needing Virginia - especially if President Barack Obama can take Ohio or Florida - Goode could become the little-known spoiler in the national election.

The former congressman has a strong enough following in rural Virginia to take votes away from Romney, and Goode has no plans to end his low-budget campaign.

Speaking with a TV station in Lynchburg, Goode said he wanted to take votes away from both candidates.

Not surprisingly, there are already challenges to Goode's petition effort to get on the Virginia ballot. The state's Virginia Board of Elections said on Monday it will investigate signatures on petitions. Goode's campaign told the Huffington Post that the investigation was political in nature.

"Nobody has ever asked any questions about our ballots or anything like that until Congressman Goode is doing well in the polls in Virginia," said Mitch Turner.

In the past, third-party or independent candidates have affected the presidential election.

In 1992, billionaire Ross Perot led in the national polls at one point before his campaign stumbled. Still, Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote and kept Bill Clinton from getting a majority of the popular vote. Perot was unable to win any electoral votes, but he had a big effect on George H.W. Bush's reelection effort.

The last third-party candidate to win any electoral votes was George Wallace, the former Alabama governor.

Wallace took 46 electoral votes in 1968 and kept Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey from taking the popular vote. Nixon's winning margin in electoral votes was enough to win despite Wallace's efforts.

There were two third-party candidates in 1948, as three members of the Democratic party ran against GOP contender Thomas Dewey. South Carolina's Strom Thurmond picked up 39 electoral votes in the South, while former Vice President Henry Wallace picked up no electoral support. Harry S. Truman had enough votes to overcome all three opposition candidates.

But it was the wild election of 1912 that stands as the biggest example of the three-party race in American history.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt decided to run against his former ally, William Howard Taft, at what turned out to be a riotous Republican convention in Chicago.

Roosevelt stormed out after Taft managed to circumvent the newly implemented primary election process to secure the nomination. The angry former two-term president promptly formed his own political party, the Progressive Party, and ran against Taft and the Democratic contender, Woodrow Wilson.

Roosevelt finished second in the general election, with Wilson winning with 42 percent of the vote.

The other presidential election decided by third-party candidates was the 1860 race that saw Abraham Lincoln beat three other candidates, after the Democrats split into two factions.

Lincoln had just 39 percent of the popular vote but won the electoral college vote by a wide margin.

In some cases, a third-party candidate doesn't have to get a big vote count to make a difference. Some Democrats still blame Ralph Nader for Al Gore's narrow loss to George W. Bush in 2000.

Nader got 97,000 votes in Florida, where Bush beat Gore by 537 votes to win the national election.

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