If the election results that came in Tuesday night had been closer, you might have been hearing the names of Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr and perennial presidential hopeful Ralph Nader quite a bit this week.
Barack Obama's clear victory has rendered both men minor footnotes in the 2008 race. (Obama presently holds 364 electoral votes, far more than the 270 he needed to take the White House.) But had the electoral map looked like 2004 or 2000, when one state effectively decided the election, either man's run could have decided who became president.
Consider three of the closest state races: North Carolina, Missouri and Indiana. CBS News this morning called North Carolina for Obama, who leads John McCain by just under 14,000 votes there. Barr won more than 25,000 votes in the state. We don't know to what degree Barr's presence cut into McCain's vote total – some of Barr's votes likely came from voters who would have supported Obama or sat out the election – but it is safe to assume that Barr's appeal rested in large part with Republicans. Which means it's possible that without Barr in the race, North Carolina's 15 electoral votes would have ended up in McCain's column.
The story is similar in Indiana, another formerly red state that went blue. Obama won the state by less than 26,000 votes. Barr took more than 29,000. Though it's unlikely, with this close a margin, that the absence of Barr would have swung the state to McCain, it could have made things a lot tighter, triggering calls for a recount. At which point, as well all learned eight years ago, anything can happen.
And then there's Missouri, which CBS News has not called yet, but where McCain is leading by less than 6,000 votes. Nader took nearly 18,000 votes in Missouri – more than enough to have cost Obama the state's 11 electoral votes. Barr, with more than 11,000 votes, and even Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin, with more than 8,000, could also have made a difference.