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Paul Campaign Rejects Third-Party Buzz

Ron Paul denies he is interested in a third-party candidacy, despite having left the door open in a recent interview. But longtime GOP strategist Mark McKinnon believes the two-party system will be tested in 2012 — and that Paul could do it.

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Despite reaching the top tier of several GOP presidential polls, and being considered a real possibility to win the Iowa caucuses, Ron Paul has already been named as a potential third-party presidential candidate.

The 11-term Texas congressman refused to rule it out during an interview on Sunday’s Meet the Press, but his campaign vehemently denies he's heading down that road.

“Ron has said, over and over, that he does not plan to run third party. [Stop] making a story where [there] is none,” Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign manager, said Monday in a text message to The Texas Tribune.

That hasn't stopped the pundit class from pontificating about Paul's prospects as an independent candidate. Even conservative commentator Glenn Beck has reportedly said he'd prefer to vote for Paul on a third-party ticket over former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the Republican ticket.

During the Meet the Press exchange, host David Gregory attempted numerous times to get a firm answer from Paul on whether he’d “rule out” running on a third-party ticket. Paul's response: "I'm not going to rule anything out, or anything in. I don't talk in absolutes." (Watch the clip below.)

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On Monday, the Paul campaign was clearly frustrated over the media’s fascination with the interview. They wanted attention to be focused on their latest online-only ad targeting Gingrich, calling him out as a "corrupt Washington insider who got rich through influence-peddling.” (Watch the two-minute spot below.)

Last week, the Tribune examined why Paul’s candidacy is not being taken seriously by mainstream Republicans. So why all the fuss over Paul’s latest non-denial denial that he’s interested in a third-party candidacy? Sure, it’s still early, but semantics matter — at least when politicians discuss their political aspirations. (Case in point: According to the Tribune’s Jay Root, Gov. Rick Perry’s long-dormant presidential aspirations were revealed last summer during a press conference, when he notably refused to “rule out” the possibility of running. Shortly after, he announced his candidacy.)

Some argue the gridlock in Washington and the “poisonous” political atmosphere nationwide are creating fertile conditions for a true political game-changer to make a legitimate challenge to the two-party system. A group called Americans Elect reports that it has already collected more than half of the signatures it needs to place a “unity ticket” on the ballot in all 50 states. That nomination process is scheduled to happen next May, well after GOP voters have chosen their candidate to run against President Obama.

For well over a year, Mark McKinnon, the Texas-based Republican strategist for former President George W. Bush and former presidential candidate and Arizona Sen. John McCain, has warned there will be a third party next year — and probably more than one.

“Arguably, in this volatile environment, a third party could win. At the very least, it will have changed the nature of the debate and the mandate for whoever is elected next fall,” McKinnon wrote to the Tribune in a e-mail from Boston, where he is teaching this semester at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Pressed on Paul’s prospects, McKinnon replied: “Ron Paul is not going away. He is very likely to be a third-party candidate. This will be a year of a disruption and surprise.”

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