Correction, 10:51 p.m., Dec. 28: This story originally led with South Carolina's sore loser statute and the complications it could present for Gary Johnson's Libertarian nomination. The sore loser statute does not apply to presidential races.
Gary Johnson announced Wednesday that he would seek the Libertarian nomination after a failed attempt to spark interest in the GOP Primary. And he stressed a 50-state vision.
"Being on the ballot in all 50 states in the general election — I cannot downplay how significant that is at this time in our country's history," Johnson said.
Cliff Warner, Johnson's campaign leader in the South, said the GOP has let conservative voters down.
"I personally believe there are a lot of people looking for a third option," he said.
Spartanburg resident Jeremy Sands, a Ron Paul supporter who has also supported Johnson, said he's prepared to look for a third-party alternative.
"It's going to depend on how the Republican Party treats Ron Paul," he said.
A philosophical divide in the party is bubbling to the surface, Sands said, as libertarian Republicans warn of the legacy of President George W. Bush and raise concerns that a moderate 2012 nominee would be little better than President Barack Obama.
It's not surprising that Johnson sees an avenue for success in a third-party run. Primary polls indicate a lack of enthusiasm for any one GOP primary candidate, increasing expectations there will be a third party alternative for conservatives.
Celebrity politico Donald Trump has suggested he might get in the race. And, earlier this month, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said it wasn't too late for someone new to shake up this campaign season, sparking speculation that she will attempt an independent run.
Getting on the Ballot
For the Trumps and Palins out there contemplating a late entry into the presidential race, there are two ways to get on the ballot in South Carolina.
A candidate can file with and win the nomination of one of the state's nine certified political parties: Constitution, Democratic, Green, Independence, Labor, Libertarian, Republican, United Citizens and Working Families.
If no party will have them or they reject the party system all together, candidates must collect 10,000 signatures from active, registered S.C. voters to file as a petition candidate. It is not an insurmountable request — Nader did it in 2008 — but it requires swift action and resources.
Democratic consultant Lachlan McIntosh said a campaign would need at least 12,000 signatures to ensure it has enough valid voters on the list. "It's not an easy task," he said. "You'd need a paid staff of around a dozen people around the state and a large group of volunteers."
Signature requirements are already causing headaches in the Virginia GOP Primary. Only former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul collected the 10,000 signatures needed to get on Virginia's primary ballot. And Texas Gov. Rick Perry has sued the Va. Board of Elections and the state's Republican Party, claiming the state's rules were too onerous.
A third way to secure a campaign victory in any other race is not available for presidential hopefuls. Sweeping election reform in 1981 included a line barring write-in candidates for president on the S.C. ballot. Former state legislator Tom Huff, who authored the election reform bill, said in 2008 that he didn't know how the write-in ban got into his legislation, but speculated that it may have been in response to Ted Kennedy's strong challenge to Jimmy Carter's re-election.
At least in South Carolina, voters are going to have to take a shine to one of the choices on the ballot or not vote at all.