Speculation is starting to build that Jon Huntsman may be setting himself up to run as a moderate, third-party candidate in 2012.
The National Journal's Matthew Dowd makes the case:
Today, President Obama’s Gallup approval ratings are at an all-time low (38 percent). For the last two weeks, his approval rating has basically been stuck around 40 percent. For the last 60 years, an incumbent president running for reelection has basically received in national vote share the same percentage as his Gallup rating going into Election Day. If a president’s approval was 50 percent or more, it didn’t matter who his opponent was, he won. And if a president’s approval was below 45 percent, it didn’t matter who his opponent was -- he lost.
We have not had a president in the inbetween numbers in the modern era, so we don’t know that territory. If the election were held today in a two-person race, Obama would lose his reelection bid. In addition, if his approval rating drops much further, he could easily face opposition within his own party.
If Republicans nominate an extremely polarizing figure who has a difficult time getting independent votes (especially in the crucial Midwest states) or one who instills no passion at all in the conservative base, and if Obama’s approval numbers stay low, then we basically would have two unelectable candidates facing each other in the general election.
Dowd says there are three likely outcomes to a third-party candidacy:
- A third-party candidate has no shot because of the way the electoral college works.
- A third-party candidate draws a large minority of the vote, but doesn't win any electoral votes. This would probably end up with an Obama re-election.
- A third-party candidate wins enough states to block the Republican and Democrat candidate from getting to 270 votes. This would throw the election to the U.S. House of Representatives, which would most likely result in a Republican win.