COLUMBIA, S.C. _ When George W. Bush abandoned the “humble” foreign policy he promised during his 2000 campaign, Patricia Wheat felt like the Republican Party had left her as well.A lifelong Republican who voted for Bush, the 50-year-old Wheat, a South Carolina Midlands resident, said she is supporting Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin this year.
“It was like a light switch went off for me,” Wheat said of watching debate on border security and the Iraq War last year. “I don’t believe this garbage. I don’t believe what they’re saying anymore.”
Baldwin is one of six candidates on South Carolina’s presidential ballot this year. Joining Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama are Baldwin, Green Party nominee Cynthia McKinney, Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr and independent candidate Ralph Nader.
But experts say 2008 is a particularly tough year for third-party candidates to get their message out. With no incumbent president seeking re-election, much of the focus has been on the major party candidates.
Add to that a threatened economic collapse, the war in Iraq and compelling candidates on both the GOP and Democratic tickets, experts said, and third-party candidates will have a tough time reaching out to the electorate.
“They’re going to struggle to influence voters,” said Danielle Vinson, a Furman University political scientist. “It’s hard in a normal election year to break through for the third parties. It’s impossible this year.”
But Vinson said third-party candidates could have a crucial impact in key battleground states, including neighboring North Carolina and Georgia.
For example, recent polls show North Carolina a dead heat, and Barr hails from Georgia. In both states, Barr could siphon enough votes from McCain to allow Obama to win, Vinson said.
Still, observers think the third-party candidates will have little effect on S.C. results.
State GOP chairman Katon Dawson thinks _ and most polls agree _ that McCain will win South Carolina comfortably. His Democratic counterpart, Carol Fowler, thinks left-leaning voters have tired of five-time candidate Nader.
Recent S.C. polls have placed support for “other” candidates between 2 percent and 4 percent, with McCain holding an average lead of 12 points over Obama, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
But third-party candidates have received a boost this year from supporters of former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. Paul endorsed Baldwin for president Wednesday and has asked voters to support third-party candidates generally.
Paul’s failed GOP candidacy sparked grass-roots interest across the country, raising millions of dollars. Many of his supporters now are looking at third-party candidates.
They include Mount Pleasant, S.C., resident Brad DeVos, who plans to vote _ for Barr.
DeVos, who considers himself a “1940s or ’50s Republican,” said he supports the conservative ideas that Barr is promoting, including limited U.S. intervention overseas, free markets and abolishing the income tax.
DeVos said it is important that Barr and others keep the major candidates honest. Third parties are like “the little devil on your shoulder,” DeVos said, reminding major parties of the things that they once stood for.
“The country is at a crisis,” DeVos, 29, said. “People might step up and listen. Eight years ago, people looked at Ron Paul like he was from a completely different planet.”
Furman’s Vinson said the winner-take-all electoral college system makes it difficult for third-party presidential candidates to win. However, they have a better chance at the congressional, state and local level.
Despite the long shot for her candidate, Baldwin supporter Wheat does not fret about wasting her vote. She is more worried the United States is giving away its sovereignty with lax border security laws and its monetary policy.
“It’s not time for pragmatism in America,” Wheat said. “It’s time for raw courage.