A national poll of likely voters released by Rasmussen Reports Tuesday shows that Ron Paul, who is the only major opponent that Mitt Romney faces for the Republican presidential nomination, would be a major factor if he made a third-party presidential bid in 2012.
The poll shows that in a three-way race, former Massachusetts governor Romney takes 44 percent followed by President Barack Obama with 39 percent and Texas congressman Paul in third with 13 percent. While the poll shows that Paul would not garner the level of support that Ross Perot took in his presidential bid in 1992, it also shows that Paul has more of a base than several recent independent and third-party presidential bids, including then-Congressman John Andersons in 1980, Ralph Naders various presidential bids, Pat Buchanans Reform Party run in 2000 and Pauls own campaign in 1988, when he was the Libertarian nominee.
The poll also shows that Paul has room to grow if he abandons the GOP to run on a third-party ticket. A quarter of those surveyed -- 25 percent -- want Paul to run as a third-party candidate while 61 percent do not and 13 percent are not sure.
The poll of 1,000 likely voters was takenMay 6-7 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
Besides being the Libertarian Partys presidential nominee in 1988, Paul has expressed some support for minor party candidates before. Instead of backing Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, Paul shed the spotlight on three other candidates -- Nader, former U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney who was the Green Partys nominee and Chuck Baldwin, a minister then based out of Pensacola who was the Constitution Partys nominee. Paul later threw his support behind Baldwin.
Despite his history, in this election cycle, Paul has shown little interest in bolting the GOP to run as a third-party candidate. His supporters are working diligently at the state level in picking up delegates to the Republican convention in Tampa come August with signs of momentum in recent days including big wins in Nevada and Maine. Pauls ties to the GOP have also increased since the 2008 election cycle -- namely with his son Rands election to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky in 2010.
If Paul does decide to continue his presidential bid as a third-party candidate, he will have to explore his options very carefully. While he ran as the Libertarian nominee in 1988, that party already has a candidate -- former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico who backed Paul in 2008 for the Republican nomination and has made no secret of his desire to reach out to the Texas congressmans supporters.
But there is one possibility for Paul in the unlikely event that he decides to go third party in 2012 -- the Americans Elect nomination. With less than a week to go until that organization starts its national online primary, there are few recognizable candidates for their nomination besides former Gov. Buddy Roemer of Louisiana and former Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City. As of Tuesday, Roemer has the most supporters than any other declared candidates with more than 4,800 -- but there are more than 9,000 Paul supporters at Americans Elect who want to see their candidate drafted.
While Americans Elect presents a vehicle for Paul if he chooses to go third party, his supporters continue to focus on battling Romney for the Republican nomination.
John Tate, Pauls campaign manager, weighed in after his candidate picked up delegates in Maine and Nevada over this past week.
Were extraordinarily pleased with the victories Ron Paul supporters achieved this weekend, and we thank these men and women for their untiring engagement, Tate said. Republican Party activists with Paul leanings are affirming the campaigns delegate-win strategy and making lasting inroads into the party infrastructure, broadening the Republican footprint and strengthening the GOP base that suffers from a dearth of enthusiasm.
Ron Paul victories in Maine and Nevada are occurring at a time and in a manner helpful for unseating President Obama and restoring Americas liberty and prosperity goals that, naturally, all Republicans share, Tate said.
Reach Kevin Derby at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (850) 727-0859.