Snapshots: Libertarian Johnson could play spoiler

DetroitNews-Unknown

Unpopular among many Americans, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have opened the door for a third-party spoiler in the presidential campaign — and just as Gary Johnson is starting to warm up.

Voters like Carlos Moreno could help him catch fire.

“I certainly don’t want Trump to get in, but Clinton worries me,” said Moreno, a registered Democrat who works as a process server in the Phoenix area. “I’ve thought about Johnson, but I haven’t begun reading up on him. I better start.”

The folksy Libertarian, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is on the ballot in 50 states. Green Party nominee Jill Stein is on the ballot in about half. Neither is remotely within reach of carrying a state. Nor do Johnson or Stein appear to be in a position to tip any states toward Trump.

But there’s a chance that Johnson could move a close race toward Clinton, in much the same way that Ralph Nader pulled enough votes away from Al Gore in 2000 to hand Florida to George W. Bush.

Of the roughly dozen battleground states on the road to the 270 electoral votes needed to win the White House, it’s in Arizona where circumstances could align in just such a way that Johnson could play spoiler.

While Trump naturally has an edge as the Republican nominee — the GOP has carried the state in 11 of the past 12 elections — Johnson could steal enough votes away to allow Clinton to snag the state’s 11 Electoral College votes.

Clinton has advantages; Trump team hopeful

Two months from Election Day, Hillary Clinton has a clear edge over Donald Trump in nearly every measure traditionally used to gauge success in presidential races.

She’s raising huge sums of money and flooding airwaves with television advertisements. A sophisticated data team with a history of winning White House contests is meticulously tracking voters in key battleground states. Clinton also has multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes needed to win in November — so many that she could lose Ohio and Florida and still become America’s first female president.

But Trump’s campaign believes there are pockets of voters eager to be persuaded not to back Clinton. While Trump squandered a summer’s worth of opportunities to court those voters, his campaign heads into the fall suddenly confident in its ability to make up lost ground.

Trump aides were gleeful Friday over the release of FBI notes regarding Clinton’s controversial email practices while secretary of state. His campaign plans to come out of the Labor Day weekend wielding the report as a warning about the Democrat’s judgment.

Getting Trump to make that kind of consistent case against Clinton has been a herculean task for much of the campaign. But advisers say he’s more receptive to his new leadership team’s more scripted approach, mostly because it’s coincided with a tightening in the public polls he monitors obsessively.

“There’s a renewed focus on Hillary Clinton and her problems, which I think has been beneficial,” said Matt Borges, the chairman of Ohio’s Republican Party. “He’s got to sustain this for another couple weeks.”

Still, Trump aides acknowledge that the brash businessman needs to do more to address his own shaky standing with voters.

Trump’s campaign has spent no general election money on positive, biographical ads, despite having plenty of cash to do so. Efforts to highlight a warmer side of the New York real estate developer at the GOP convention were quickly overshadowed by flaps of his own making. He’s also angered anew Hispanics voters, a fast-growing segment of the electorate that Republicans are desperate to draw from, by holding fast to his tough immigration policies.

“He’s running up against a population trend and a demographic reality,” said Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic strategist.