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A group that plans to mount a novel third-party presidential campaign is poised to get on the N.C. ballot, a move that could change the electoral dynamics in a key battleground state.

A state elections official says Americans Elect appears to have the required signatures to get on the November ballot alongside President Barack Obama and the Republican and Libertarian nominees. The state could certify them in early March.

Americans Elect bills itself as the first nonpartisan presidential nomination. It's an online effort that expects to have hundreds of thousands of people take part in choosing a candidate in a process that culminates in a virtual convention this June.

Brian Findlay, the group's policy director, says Americans Elect is on the ballot in 16 states including California. They've submitted required signatures in 11 more, including North Carolina.

We're right on schedule, he says. We'll be on all 50 (state ballots) and the District of Columbia.

An independent candidate with broad support could change the electoral math in many states.

Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in North Carolina, a state Obama carried by a scant 14,000 votes in 2008.

That throws a monkey wrench into both parties' calculus, but I'd have to say it's probably worrisome for the GOP, says Michal Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College.

Anything that further splits the electorate, the likelihood is that it will help Obama's chances, Bitzer said.

But Americans Elect has to have a candidate.

According to its website, the nonprofit group hopes to help break gridlock and change politics as usual with a candidate who will put their country before their party, and American interests before special interests.

Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman is on its board. Advisers include Charlotte investor Mark Erwin, a former U.S. ambassador, former FBI Director William Webster and Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush.

Since people began drafting candidates at the end of January, hundreds have been recommended. The list includes unconventional candidates from business and education. It also includes politicians such as Republican U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick and Democratic Rep. Mel Watt, both of Charlotte.

Leading contenders

But the leading contender so far: GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul, a Texas congressman.

He's followed by former Utah governor and former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Paul has said he has no intention of mounting a third-party bid. It's unclear whether the others would.

Findlay says Paul or anybody else nominated at June's virtual convention would have to run on a balanced ticket.

Ron Paul is not going to be able to choose a Republican running mate, says Findlay. He would have to choose an independent or Democrat.

A candidate certification committee would have to sign off on the ticket.

Americans Elect was funded with $21 million raised from undisclosed seed donors, reported to be mostly wealthy hedge-fund executives. Elliot Ackerman, the group's chief operating officer, told the Observer in November that the goal is to give all Americans - not just those in key primary states - a voice in choosing a nominee.

Third-party dynamics

Third-party candidates have had an impact in presidential politics.

In 1992, independent Ross Perot won 19 percent of the popular vote. According to some analysts, his success came at the expense of the first President Bush.

In 2000, some Democrats blame Al Gore's narrow loss in Florida on the Green Party's Ralph Nader, who siphoned crucial votes, swinging the state - and the election - to Republican George W. Bush.

In North Carolina, Bitzer said Republicans could have more to lose from a third party. Obama will be re-nominated in Charlotte and his campaign already has begun mobilizing volunteers and voters.

The GOP has got to have North Carolina, Bitzer says. Republicans don't need their voters straying.



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