Ron Paul could be the most successful third-party candidate in history

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) (C) talks with Iowa Gov. (Steve Pope/Getty Images/AFP)
A strong third-party candidate could create serious concerns for those vying for the White House as the campaigns of many hopefuls become marred with controversy.

A likely option for an alternative to the Republican and Democrat choices for next year’s race could be Congressman Ron Paul, a current GOP hopeful who has run as a third-party candidate in the past. Though he continues to campaign for the Republican bid, Paul has discussed continuing his race for the presidency under the umbrella of a different party. A new poll shows that should he chose to do so, the results of Election Day 2012 could divide voters greatly.

In the results of a poll released this week, a third-party bid by Rep. Ron Paul could garner a good share of voters from both the left and the right. Paul ran the presidency outside of both parties back in 1988 and said last month that he wouldn’t rule out running as an independent during next year’s election.

The survey, conducted by NBC News in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal, says that should Ron Paul run in a three-way race next year against President Barack Obama and Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney, the congressman from Texas could pull in 18 percent of the votes. In such a race, suggests the poll, Obama would likely win with 44 percent of the votes to Romney’s 32 percent.

Should next year’s election come down to a two-party match-up between Obama and Romney without a viable third-party alternative, the results of the poll put Obama ahead, but not by much. In such a race, the survey says that Obama would enter a second term thanks to a 49-43 percent margin.

Is it all that likely that a third-party candidate, Ron Paul or otherwise, could emerge in the coming months? One leading Republican lawmaker says it is indeed a possibility.

"Unless both parties change, then I think that it's an inevitability. We aren't doing anything for the people," Senator John McCain told Reuters on Tuesday. McCain, who ran as the GOP candidate for president against Barack Obama during the 2008 election, said that the options being offered by the left and the right now aren’t doing enough to appease suffering Americans. Even as a Republican representative at the moment, McCain said that his own side of the aisle isn’t doing what it should be as the country continues to suffer economic unrest and widespread unemployment.

"The party, I think, has got to be a lot more responsive to the plight of the people," said McCain. "I think we have to weigh in far more heavily on the side of things like reforming the tax code. If we reform the tax code, then many of these large corporations that paid no taxes last year … maybe they would."

McCain added that he still hasn’t “given up” on the Republican Party but “will continue to complain about things.”

In a sit-down with Fox News on Sunday, Congressman Ron Paul also implied that he wasn’t ready to abandon the Republican Party, but noted in the past that it could come down to that in 2012. Last month he told the networks’ Juan Williams that he was continuing to campaign as a member of the GOP would not rule out running as an independent.

“I'm running for president in the Republican Party, I'm doing very well. And last time they wondered about it, but, you know the whole thing is, is boy the people are really frustrated,” he said at the time. “You go to New Hampshire there are more independents than Republicans or Democrats,” said Paul.

When Williams pressed him further, Paul said he had no intention of abandoning his run with the Republican Party but hadn’t ruled out campaigning under another branch.