The Ron Paul Vote
It'll be weeks before we know exactly how many votes were cast for which candidates. Two Senate seats and a bunch of House seats are still too close to call because of the outstanding ballots. But I don't think there are too many outstanding votes for third party presidential candidates. How'd they do?
Bob Barr (LP): 490,689 votes. Only around half of what the campaign had hoped for, and had expected given its efforts in a bunch of close states. It's the second-best Libertarian presidential performance of all time, better than Harry Browne's two runs or than Ron Paul's run in 1988, but well behind Ed Clark's 921,128 votes in 1980.
Ralph Nader (Various Parties): 661,736 votes. A huge letdown for him, too, given the improved organization and ballot access he achieved this campaign. It's his second-worst performance in four runs for president, worse even than 1996, when he got 685,297 votes with a "non-campaign" on fewer state ballots. That year he scored 237,016 votes in California. This year he scored less than 90,000, even though Barack Obama was winning the biggest Democratic landslide there since FDR beat Alf Landon. Overall Nader got fewer votes than Eugene McCarthy in his forgotten 1976 run. I'd say something like this plus his racial attacks on Barack Obama mean "his career is finished," but when a guy's determined to become as relevant as those Jimmy Buffett for President bumper stickers there's not much you can do.
Chuck Baldwin (Constitution Party): 175,868 votes. Despite the Ron Paul endorsement, this is only the second-best Constitution Party performance ever: In 1996, Howard Phillips got 184,820 votes. The difference was in Alan Keyes, who stole the party's California ballot line and scored more than 30,000 votes there. (This doesn't include write-in votes, though, and even Paul himself had to write Baldwin in on the Texas ballot.)
Cynthia McKinney (Green Party): 142,865 votes. Only slightly better than the party's abysmal 2004 performance, which was hindered by Ralph Nader's decision not to run, then his decision to run, then his decision to atack the Greens when they didn't nominate him.
Ron Paul (Various Parties): 19,852 votes. We don't know how many write-in votes he got yet, but that's what he pulled by being on the ballot in Montana and Louisiana.
So if you add together Paul with the four candidates he gathered at the National Press Club to endorse (and include Barr, who was invited), Paul's favored candidates got around 1.5 million votes. In a historical perspective, that's… not that impressive, still. Ralph Nader got almost twice as many votes in 2000, and John Anderson got almost four times as many in 1980. It's a bigger third party vote than 2004, but not by much.
Why was this if everyone told the pollsters they were furious with the way the country was going and hated the two parties? I'd say it's because there was a Democrat and a Republican that people basically liked, but that wouldn't explain why 1988 third party voting was so low. I'm not hearing any of this discussed in the rest of the media, so Bob Barr's complaint from Ron Paul's presser rings true: The way to keep attention on libertarian political arguments was to consolidate behind one candidate. For all of Paul's flaws, his totals in Montana and Louisiana indicate that he probably could have run a Nader 2000-style campaign and gotten about Nader's 2.8 million votes.