Is Jill Stein the Spoiler-in-Chief for Hillary Clinton and the Democrats?

These could be the best political days of Jill Stein, the other Jewish presidential candidate besides Bernie Sanders (also known as the other woman candidate, besides Hillary Clinton).

Stein, longtime leader of the left-wing, environmentally oriented Green Party, is beginning to see some stars align in her favor. The factors driving this shift include unprecedented disapproval ratings for both parties’ presumptive presidential nominees and a growing attraction among voters to outsiders who do not represent the mainstream establishment.

Stein and Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson are benefitting from this widespread dissatisfaction, one that could potentially rise to a level of concern for both the GOP’s Donald Trump and Clinton, the Democratic candidate.

On Tuesday, CNN’s latest poll put a number value to the two outside candidates’ significance: Seven percent of American voters, the poll found, would like to Stein as their next president. Gary Johnson won support from 9% of those polled. For Stein, this represented a significant advance over polls by other organizations in May and June that showed her support at 5% and 2%, respectively.

Stein and Johnson’s numbers may reveal a growing interest in third party challengers. But that doesn’t mean these challengers will be on the ballot when voters stream to the polls in November. Stein is so far on the ballot of fewer than half the states and in the midst of a struggle to clear the hurdles that will put her on the ballots of the others. Clinton and Trump, in contrast, will be on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

This is Stein’s second run for the presidency as the Green Party’s nominee. In 2012 Stein, a 66 years old Lexington, Massachusetts physician, won just under a half a million votes nationally, more than any other woman candidate in a general election. Hillary Clinton is sure to break this record in November.

Though raised as a Reform Jew, Stein now says she is “culturally Jewish though I’m not actively a practicing Jew.” Nevertheless, she considers her Reform Jewish upbringing an important influence on her life choice of social activism.

The new polling data proves Stein is correct in describing herself as “plan B” for frustrated Sanders supporters. Eighteen percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents who favored Sanders, now support Stein. In a May 25 interview with The Hill Stein said there is “an incredible love affair between our supporters and Bernie supporters. You can’t distinguish them; they are already co-mingled.”

The same is not true, however, when it comes to endorsements from progressive and labor groups that backed the Vermont senator during his primary race. On an institutional level, all groups that stood behind Sanders are now shifting their support to Clinton.

Her better numbers notwithstanding, Stein still falls under the category of a protest-vote —— or worse, from a liberal perspective, a spoiler who ends up helping Trump. At her current level of support, she stands no chance of winning any votes in the Electoral College. Nor does the Libertarian Johnson. Still, Stein or Johnson could tilt a tight race in some key battleground states, with Johnson drawing votes away from Trump, and Stein, to a lesser extent, costing Clinton the valuable votes of disaffected Democrats.

For Democrats who were around for the 2000 elections, this threat is all too real. Green Party candidate Ralph Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida that year —— a number that could have swung the state into the election column of Democrat Al Gore to give him that state’s 25 electoral votes. This would have given Gore the election itself by giving him a clear majority not just in the popular vote, which he had, but in the Electoral College, where elections are actually decided under the U.S. Constitution. Instead, the state went to George W. Bush after a narrow and contested Florida win for the Republican led to a recount that was ultimately aborted by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Stein answers fears that a vote for her could send Donald Trump to the White House with a call for “courage.”

“We need to bring that courage into the voting booth,” Stein said. “To adopt a position of cowardice in the voting booth is to surrender to a predatory political system on all fronts.”

The Clinton campaign has yet to spend any time or resources time on campaigning against Stein or trying to win over her supporters. A Democratic source said there is no need for such moves. “We’re not in a Ralph Nader moment,” the source said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter @nathanguttman

Author

Nathan Guttman

Nathan Guttman

Nathan Guttman staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Ha’aretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Contact Nathan at guttman@forward.com, or follow him on Twitter @nathanguttman

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