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What Role Will Gary Johnson Play in the Election?

"He's going to be a problem for somebody, somewhere."

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson probably won’t win the presidential election this year -- but that’s not to say he won't have an effect on its final outcome.

Johnson, who briefly participated in the Republican presidential primaries before switching over to the Libertarians, is polling at about 5 percent nationwide, according to Fox News. However, despite a poor showing in nationwide polls, he does have some pull in key battleground states, including New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada.

CNN’s Electoral Map

“He was rating at 13 percent in New Mexico and 9 percent in Arizona in recent polling -- not enough to win, but certainly enough to disadvantage whichever major-party candidate he's drawing votes away from,” Joseph Weber writes for

The Johnson campaign has recognized this as a definite possibility.

"Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gov. Gary Johnson Could Deprive Mitt Romney of 5 battleground states, 74 Electoral Votes, 27% of the Electoral Votes needed to win in 2012," The Libertarian Party said in an email earlier this week.

Although no one can say for certain what, if any, effect Johnson will have on the election, we can look to historical examples to see how this might play out.

“In 1992, third-party candidate Ross Perot won roughly 19 percent of the popular vote, which many people think cut into GOP incumbent George H.W. Bush's take and put Democratic candidate Bill Clinton in the Oval Office with just 43 percent of the vote,” Webers writes.

True, Johnson isn't even close to having the type of support Perot did, but considering the fact that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama are only separated by a single digit in a few battleground states, Johnson’s 5 percent might be enough to turn a state blue or red.

But here's something else: Unlike Perot, some analysts believe Johnson's run has the potential to damage both Republicans and Democrats. While most think Romney will bear the brunt of Johnson's campaign, the left-leaning Public Policy Polling believes the Libertarian candidate will hurt President Obama in Colorado.

"He's going to be a problem for somebody, somewhere," writes political strategist and Fox News contributor Joe Trippi. "We don't yet know which candidate he might harm the most ... both campaigns should be looking over their shoulders at that guy almost nobody is talking about."

But all polling numbers and speculation aside, Libertarian Party executive director Carla Howell maintains that Johnson is a legitimate candidate for the highest office in the country and not just some guy who might affect the other candidates.

"This is an election between two very similar candidates ... Gary Johnson is a real choice for what people really care about," she said.

"He stands for a lot of things that a lot of people want," she added.

Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter

All photos courtesy the AP.

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