By Paul B. Johnson | High Point Enterprise
TRIAD – Jeramy Lanning is the type of voter who may tip which presidential candidate carries North Carolina in the race for the White House, but he isn’t voting for President Barack Obama or Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Instead, the 23-year-old worker at a Greensboro grocery store intends to vote for Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who is the third and only other presidential candidate on the North Carolina general election ballot this fall. Johnson is a former Republican governor of New Mexico who has become a Libertarian political leader.
Lanning said he only sees a “marginal difference” in the positions of Obama and Romney on subjects such as U.S. foreign policy and military intervention, the power and influence of central banks and respect for personal liberty.
“I don’t see Obama or Romney as strong on any of those issues. I believe that the power of corporations, as well as the federal government, needs to be reduced,” Lanning told The High Point Enterprise.
How many North Carolina voters cast ballots for Johnson could influence the outcome in a close contest between Obama and Romney in the state. Polls consistently have shown Obama and Romney within a few percentage points of each other in North Carolina.
Registered Libertarian voters make up a fraction of the state’s overall electorate. Out of nearly 6.5 million registered voters, only 17,036 are listed as Libertarians, according to N.C. State Board of Elections records.
However, four years ago, Obama carried North Carolina in the presidential race against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., by 14,000 votes out of more than 4 million cast. In 2008, the Libertarian presidential candidate, former Georgia congressman Bob Barr, drew more than 25,000 votes in North Carolina.
The impact of Johnson in the state’s presidential contest depends on what type of voters will be drawn to a Libertarian candidacy, said John Dinan, professor of political science at Wake Forest University.
Some Libertarian voters may be people who wouldn’t have voted otherwise for Obama or Romney, meaning their presence in the voting booths won’t have a significant impact on the outcome. But if Johnson draws votes that would have gone for Obama or Romney, then it could make a difference, Dinan said.
“The general assumption is that Libertarian candidates are more likely to draw from Republicans,” said Dinan, since Libertarian positions typically have been more aligned with the conservative movement.
For example, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, drew impassioned Libertarian support within the Republican Party as he sought the GOP presidential nomination earlier this year.
Another factor that helps Obama in North Carolina is that no left-leaning presidential candidate, such as from the Green Party, is on the state’s general election ballot, Dinan said.
One of the most controversial and close elections in modern American politics illustrates how a third-party presidential candidate can effect the outcome of who wins the White House.
In 2000, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader was on the ballot in Florida. Many analysts say the more than 97,000 votes Nader received siphoned support from Democratic Vice President Al Gore, who lost Florida by a scant 537 votes in a controversial decision involving the U.S. Supreme Court. Republican President George W. Bush’s victory in Florida decided the outcome of the national race.
Lanning said he isn’t focusing on how his vote for Johnson might affect whether Obama or Romney carries North Carolina on Nov. 6.
“I’m not going to vote for somebody just because I think they are going to win,” he said. “I think you should vote on a set of principles and who you think should be president.”