Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson will make a campaign stop on the University of Colorado campus on Monday night, and pollsters say the third-party candidate with a pro-pot agenda could siphon votes away from President Barack Obama in his razor-close race against Mitt Romney in this battleground state.
Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, will be on the Boulder campus at 7 p.m. in the Math 100 building for a town-hall style gathering. Proponents of Colorado ballot measure Amendment 64, which seeks to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol, also will be at the event.
Traditionally, libertarians such as Johnson tend to draw votes away from Republican candidates. But with marijuana legalization being a key issue for Johnson, there’s the potential for voters already enthused about Amendment 64 to also cast votes in favor of the Libertarian presidential candidate — including some from the left-leaning youth demographic, pollsters say.
A poll released Friday by NBC News, the Wall Street Journal and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion shows the presidential race between Obama and Romney tied in Colorado at 48 percent apiece. In September, that same poll showed the president with a 5-point lead over his Republican counterpart. Two percent of the voters polled most recently indicated they were undecided or considered changing their mind.
Political analyst Eric Sondermann said that Colorado could be the closest race in the nation in this presidential election. There was early speculation that having marijuana legalization on the ballot would benefit the Obama campaign as it could draw youth voters, Sondermann said.
“Now if you have a Libertarian candidate whose primary calling card seems to be the legalization issue, what they had thought to be a marginal benefit could turn out to be a marginal impediment,” Sondermann said.
Floyd Ciruli, a Denver-based pollster and political analyst, said that less than half a percent of voters in Colorado are Libertarians. But Johnson could gain votes from other demographics, particularly college students or Republicans who supported Ron Paul.
“The few surveys that have captured his level of support show that he draws from both candidates — the young people from Obama and he draws the Libertarians from Romney and those who may have been for Ron Paul,” Ciruli said. “But none of the samples have been big enough to show which candidate loses more votes.”
Ciruli also said that there’s the possibility that some young voters or recreational marijuana users who wouldn’t typically vote may show up on Election Day specifically to vote for Amendment 64 and move up the ballot and vote for president. Or some people who are in favor of marijuana legalization may symbolically vote for Johnson to send a message.
Because of Colorado’s status as a swing state, CU’s Boulder campus is receiving an unprecedented level of attention from candidates this year.
Last month, President Barack Obama campaigned on the Norlin Quad, just a few months after delivering a policy address about student loan interest rates at the Coors Events Center. Prior to Obama’s two visits this year, a sitting president hadn’t visited Boulder in nearly 60 years.