Ross Perot’s 1992 Reform Party movement got more independent votes (19%) than any third-party candidacy since Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 Bull Moose Party run. But, it’s interesting to see where he got his support. Perot did exceedingly well in New Hampshire and Maine (he came in second place in Maine). He got 24% in Minnesota, which pre-saged the governorship of Jesse Ventura. He got 27% in Idaho, almost beating out Clinton for second place. In fact, Perot topped 20% in California, Oregon, and Washington, and in every state (except New Mexico) all the way from the left coast to the Missouri River. However, nowhere in the Old Confederacy did he do better than 14%, and he generally tallied 9-11% in the Deep South.
In other words, while Perot didn’t run an explicitly libertarian campaign (far from it), his main appeal was to the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. New Hampshire’s motto of ‘Live Free or Die’ is the motto for much of the West. And these are the areas where Barack Obama has had the most success with attracting white voters. In West Virginia, Perot only received 16% of the vote, and in Kentucky only 14%.
It will be interesting to see how Bob Barr’s independent run on the Libertarian ticket will affect the outcomes in the West. He certainly offers a Perot-like protest vote for hordes of disaffected Republicans in states like Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and the Dakotas. Barr hails from Georgia, which along with Mississippi, is one of the states where a strong right-leaning third party vote, combined with record black turnout, could put a Deep Southern state in play for Obama. But, Barr’s appeal is likely to catch fire, if it does at all, in the states where Perot ran strongest.
If Kansas is going to fall to Obama, it will probably be because Gov. Sebelius is on the ticket and Bob Barr grabs a significant number of votes (Perot nabbed 27% in Kansas). Nebraska, which divvies up its Electoral College votes by district (like Maine) rather than giving them out winner-take-all, could easily hand its eastern district to Obama if Barr has a strong showing (Perot got 24% in Nebraska). A strong showing by Barr could put Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada completely out of McCain’s reach. Those three states, plus Iowa, would be enough for Obama to win without Ohio or Florida (assuming Obama carries Kerry’s states).
A Barr campaign could easily cost McCain his chance to poach New Hampshire and Maine, and it could prove decisive in a close race in Florida.
It all depends on whether Bob Barr can pull a significant fraction of the vote. In some close (purple) states, a few percentage points could flip the balance. But if he starts approaching 10% in some strong Perot states, we could see a real landslide effect.