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Three’s a crowd — A history of third-party campaigns

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader announced he would run for the presidency Sunday as a third-party candidate. Nader is no stranger to presidential politics — he ran in 1996 and 2000 for the Green Party, and in 2004 as an independent.

A longtime consumer activist, Nader says he runs to offer voters a third choice in a system he sees as dominated by corporate interests. Although he usually doesn't fare well at the polls, Nader has greatly impacted races in the past — many Democrats still blame him for siphoning off votes from Al Gore in 2000 in Florida, which helped George W. Bush win the presidency.

If Nader's past attempts — and the history of other third party candidates — offer any guide, he's got a steep climb to the White House. Scroll through this gallery of other third-party candidacies for the presidency.

Pat Buchanan

After two failed attempts at the Republican presidential nomination, Pat Buchanan brought his message of conservative values to the campaign trail as the Reform Party's candidate in 2000. Buchanan's nomination wasn't well received — it caused a rift in the party, and Buchanan received less than 1 percent of the vote in the general election. He returned to the Republican Party afterwards.

Robert C. "Bob" Smith

Few third party candidates have run as tumultuous campaigns as New Hampshire's Robert C. "Bob" Smith. On Jan. 1, 1999, Smith announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. In July of that year, he quit the GOP to seek the nomination of the US Taxpayers Party. But by August, Smith had soured on the Taxpayers Party and decided to run as an independent. Finally, Smith quit the race on Oct. 28, 1999, citing a lack of funds, and threw his support behind Republican nominee George Bush.

H. Ross Perot

Dallas billionaire H. Ross Perot made a spirited bid for the White House in 1992, capturing 19 percent of the vote. Promising to balance the budget, combat offshoring of jobs, and fight gun control, Perot's message resonated with many voters and he even topped mainstream candidates Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush in the polls at one point. His candidacy ultimately pulled away conservative voters from the incumbent Bush, helping pave Clinton's road to Washington.

In 1996, Perot founded the Reform Party and mounted another run at the presidency. This time he was less successful, but still managed to pull in 8 percent of the vote, a high total for a third-party run.

Ron Paul

Representative Ron Paul of Texas has generated headlines in the 2008 race with his massive fund-raising and fervent supporters. But this isn't Paul's first run at the Oval Office. In 1988, Paul ran as a member of the Libertarian Party. His views haven't changed much over the past two decades — much like his platform today, Paul ran then on promises to shrink the government, eliminate the personal income tax, and bring troops home from overseas.

John B. Anderson

In 1980, John B. Anderson, a 10-term Republican representative from Illinois, challenged President Jimmy Carter and Republican candidate Ronald Reagan as a moderate independent for the National Unity Party.

Anderson viewed his campaign as a balance between the two major parties. He called Republicans too socially conservative and intolerant and viewed the Democrats' tax-and-spend agenda as unrealistic.

However, Anderson made the unpopular choice of advocating a 50-cent per gallon tax hike, an unpopular position during the ongoing oil crisis that helped sink his campaign.

Dr. Benjamin Spock

Dr. Benjamin Spock, celebrated author of "Baby and Child Care," was known for his baby advice as well as his antiwar views. He remained deeply opposed to the Vietnam War and often wrote letters of protest to the White House and participated in antiwar demonstrations.

In 1972, Spock ran for president as a candidate of the Peoples Party, which historically stood for the abolition of national banks, a graduated income tax, direct election of senators, civil service reform, an eight-hour working day, and government control of all railroads, telegraphs, and telephones.

George C. Wallace

After more than 15 years as governor of Alabama, George C. Wallace took his virulent, segregationist message to the national stage.

In 1968, Wallace ran for president on his own American Independent Party ticket in a campaign that vilified blacks, students, and people who called for an end to the war in Vietnam. His message found a lot of supporters in the racially divided South — he carried five states, won 46 electoral votes, and secured about 13 percent of the total vote.

Strom Thurmond

Wallace wasn't the only politician to harness the racial tensions of the South for a third-party run. In 1948, South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond ran for president as the States' Rights Democratic Party candidate. His party, also called the Dixiecrat Party, represented a segregationist, populist, socially conservative splinter of the major Democratic Party. Thurmond captured four states and 39 electoral votes.

Although Thurmond's presidential bid fell short, his career in politics was far from over. Thurmond served in the US Senate for 49 years, beginning as a Democrat in 1954 and switching to the Republican Party from 1964 to 2003.

Robert LaFollete

In 1924, Robert LaFollete represented the Progressive Party and ran against major party candidates Calvin Coolidge and John W. Davis. The attorney and former senator from Wisconsin unsuccessfully sought the Republican and Progressive Party presidential nominations several times during his life.

During the 1924 race, he won the Wisconsin electoral vote and reaped nearly 6 million popular votes. He died a year later.

Eugene V. Debs

Although "socialist" is a dirty slur in American politics today, the Socialist Party of America once wielded considerable clout in the United States. Eugene V. Debs, arguably the party's most visible member, ran for president five times, including once from jail.

Debs received modest support in each of his runs, topping out at 6 percent in the 1912 election.

William Howard Taft

Fed up with the performance of his successor, William Howard Taft, former president Theodore Roosevelt mounted an aggressive effort to usurp the Republican nomination from Taft in 1912.

When Roosevelt's power grab proved unsuccessful, a contingent of his followers formed the Progressive Party, nicknamed the Bull Moose Party, so Roosevelt could challenge Taft in the general election. Roosevelt's campaign advocated womens' voting rights, an eight-hour workday, and legislation to protect workers.

The energetic, micromanaging Roosevelt did defeat his Republican rival, besting Taft in electoral votes (88 to 8) and the popular vote (27 percent to 23 percent). But Democrat Woodrow Wilson easily defeated both comers, winning nearly 42 percent of the vote and carrying 40 states.

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