TAMPA, Fla. — With Mitt Romney now the official Republican presidential nominee, Libertarian Party nominee Gary E. Johnson is trying to win over liberty lovers who backed Rep. Ron Paul during the GOP’s primary process, raising questions of whether either man could play the spoiler for Mr. Romney in a general election.
Mr. Johnson is fighting to get on the ballot in all 50 states, vowing to be the only third-party candidate to do so. While such candidates typically can attract just 1 percent or 2 percent of the vote, that could end up being the margin of victory in swing states such as Iowa, Colorado and North Carolina, where neither President Obama nor Mr. Romney has been able to develop a sustained, insurmountable lead.
Adding to Mr. Romney’s potential headaches in those states, many of Mr. Paul’s supporters in the primaries have said they will write in their hero on November’s ballot rather than vote for the Republican nominee.
“If people [who] like Paul feel slighted, they may go one way, or they may just sit it out,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law. “I think it’s a natural reaction if you feel you’re shut out or slighted. ‘Why should they vote for Romney?’ It’s uncertain, but I think it’s something Republicans seem to be concerned about. Because they need every vote, right?”
Proof of the danger Mr. Johnson poses came this week in Iowa, where he said Mr. Romney’s campaign is making a concerted effort to keep him off the ballot in a state Mr. Obama carried in 2008 but where the GOP is bullish this year.
“It’s my understanding that in Iowa, there has never been a third-party challenge, ever, in the history of the state,” Mr. Johnson said Tuesday. “This is unprecedented, and it is absolutely driven by Romney. What’s there to fear? Our view of it at this point is great. In Iowa, I think we’re getting attention that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. So, thanks very much to the Romney campaign.”
Two Iowa voters have filed paperwork challenging Mr. Johnson’s candidacy, and Jay Kramer, who says he is the state’s Election Day operations director for Mr. Romney, reportedly signed it as a witness.
A Romney spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
“I don’t know how I could have been received any better than what I received on Saturday,” Mr. Johnson said.
He noted that he’s had no coordination with the Paul campaign, and he seemed content for that to continue.
“I think we’ve pretty well put ourselves there, and I don’t think they have any desire to do that,” he said. “We’re certainly here.”
Elaine Smith of Oregon, a delegate to the Republican convention in 2008 and a Ron Paul supporter, is taking a defiant view of 2012.
“What’s going to happen is going to happen,” Ms. Smith said. “If your horse is determined to go over the cliff, like Mitt Romney is, then we should get on another horse.”