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Americans Elect: a real question mark.
Do you know about Americans Elect? If not, you should, because they could have a profound impact on the 2012 presidential election. If you've visited online news sites or read about politics, likelihood is that you've seen their advertisements asking you to sign up for their website and help choose a presidential candidate besides Obama and whoever wins the Republican nomination. The privately-funded group has already gotten itself on the ballot in California, has filed the requisite paperwork to petition in Texas, and has already secured appearances in major swing states such as Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Nevada.

The Americans Elect Party hopes to appear on the ballot in all fifty states, but their presidential nomination process isn't like most others: Instead, they will select a presidential nominee through successive online votes by the people who have signed up to participate. That presidential nominee must then choose a vice-presidential nominee of a different party. Why? Because the people that are funding Americans Elect seem to be a group of postpartisan fetishists who believe that the major problem in our political system is too much partisanship, as opposed to the fact that we have a permanently broken Senate and a House of Representatives that has turned into a hornet's next of radical reactionaries.

How will the Americans Elect Party affect 2012? It's hard to say until we know who their nominee is, though I have a hard time imagining how someone with a dedicated and zealous internet base like Ron Paul would not win a primary based successive rounds of voting by internet users, though who knows. Maybe Mayor Bloomberg really does have a silent internet majority waiting in the wings.

Paul and Bloomberg would seem to be the two likeliest choices, should they choose to seek the nomination. In either case, how would that affect the 2012 race? There's little shot that either Bloomberg or Paul could win the presidency, much less a single electoral vote. But having either one of them on the ballot could swing a crucial state one way or the other, depending on which one of the two it is, and who wins the Republican nomination. In the absence of actual polling, we have nothing to rely on but pure speculation, gut feelings and our best estimates at common sense—but that's good enough for now.

If, as seems likeliest right now, Mitt Romney wins the nomination, having Bloomberg as the Americans Elect Party nominee might be nothing but beneficial. The 2012 electorate is very disaffected, and given the state of the nation and the weak economy, one could have expected President Obama to be in a worse position to win reelection than he is right now, which is a testament to the weakness of the Republican field. While Mitt Romney certainly doesn't excite conservatives—if he did, he would have had the Republican primary race locked up well before today as we approach the Iowa caucuses two days hence—he also is not as abhorrent to voters who are looking for something different as, say, Newt Gingrich might be. Consequently, he polls better against Obama in many states, including swings states like Michigan, New Hampshire and Nevada.

A well-funded Bloomberg candidacy could have a serious impact on that by providing a plausibly sensible alternative to those who are looking for an alternative to Obama but don't trust Romney. In such a theoretical scenario, the president's reelection campaign could have the luxury of focusing more heavily on base turnout while Romney would have to fight against Bloomberg and Obama for the swing voters he would need to have a shot at winning with the Republican Party's theocratic base perhaps less energized than normal.

A Ron Paul candidacy on the Americans Elect ballot line—which I view as a more likely outcome—would also be the more problematic for the Obama campaign. Even though Paul has policy platforms on the economy, health care, women's rights and the role of government that are anathema to progressives, he does have positions on foreign policy and drug policy that fall in line with what many people, especially anti-war and pro-marijuana college students, want to see. This could present a challenge, as the Obama campaign would need to not only get these students to vote in higher numbers, but also turn them into a reliable source of volunteers as well. California, for instance, has always been a provider not just of money, but of campaign volunteers. If the campaign feels the need to shore up its base in California, for instance, it could harm the effort in Nevada, Arizona and Colorado. Romney, however, would not be immune: Evangelical states such as Texas or South Carolina, whose Republican bases would not be very enthusiastic about his candidacy, might be within striking distance for Obama if Paul siphoned off a significant portion of their radical anti-government electorates.

If, on the other hand, Newt Gingrich is the Republican nominee, a Bloomberg candidacy on the Americans Elect line would be distinctly unhelpful for President Obama. Even for many swing voters who would like an alternative to Obama, Newt Gingrich is not an acceptable alternative, which is why his poll numbers versus Obama in swing states have usually been lower than those of Romney. Bloomberg could be problematic in this scenario because he represents a plausibly palatable alternative to Obama that Gingrich does not, which might make the reelection campaign a little more arduous.

Now, if Gingrich is the Republican nominee and Ron Paul takes the American Elect ballot line ... then President Obama will be laughing all the way to his inauguration in 2013.

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