With less than three weeks to go until the midterm elections, observers are waiting to see which party can claim to have the better night: Republicans or Democrats.
But while most of the attention is understandably focused on the two major parties, a handful of third-party candidates are poised to have an outsized impact on Election Night as well.
Most of these candidates have no chance of winning outright, but they could tilt the scales just enough to shape the outcome of their respective races.
Here are five third-party candidates to watch as the midterms approach.
Evan McMullin — Independent Utah Senate candidate
Utah is the only state with no Democratic candidate running for Senate.
Instead, incumbent Sen. Mike Lee (R) will face Evan McMullin, a former presidential candidate running as an Independent. The Utah Democratic Party endorsed McMullin in his challenge.
Utah is a reliably red state, having elected Republicans to both of the state’s Senate seats for more than 40 years.
But recent polls show a potentially close race, with Lee only leading McMullin by only a few points in some surveys, far less than Lee’s more than 40-point victory in 2016.
The latest Deseret-Hinckley poll shows Lee leading McMullin 41 percent to 37 percent, with 12 percent of Utah voters undecided.
If he pulls off an upset, McMullin would join two other Independents in the upper chamber: Sens. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Angus King (Maine).
But both Sanders and King caucus with Democrats, and McMullin has pledged to not caucus with either party.
That means a McMullin victory could cause a potential shake-up for Republicans, who are counting on a few battleground races to flip Democrats’ razor-thin majority.
Pundits aren’t so sure of McMullin’s chances, however. The Cook Political Report rates the race as likely Republican, and FiveThirtyEight’s model suggests Lee retains a 94 percent chance of victory.
Shane Hazel — Libertarian Georgia gubernatorial candidate
Shane Hazel has virtually no chance of winning the Georgia governor’s mansion, but his candidacy could still impact who becomes the victor.
Georgia is one of two states to implement runoff elections, meaning that if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, the top two candidates face voters again in a runoff on Dec. 6.
Incumbent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) has the slight edge, but with the state’s gubernatorial contest coming down to the wire, it is plausible Hazel will get enough votes to prevent him or Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams from achieving an outright majority.
Bolstering that possibility is the fact that Hazel garnered fresh attention this week when he shared a debate stage with Abrams and Kemp, giving him a major platform to make his case to Georgia voters.
Granted, most surveys show Kemp with a majority — though just barely.
An Emerson College-The Hill survey taken earlier this month found Kemp leading Abrams 51 percent to 46 percent.
Kemp and Abrams are facing Georgians in a rematch of their 2018 race, when Kemp beat Abrams by avoiding a runoff by just 0.2 percentage points.
Chase Oliver — Libertarian Georgia Senate candidate
Like the state’s gubernatorial race, Oliver could cause trouble for Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) and his GOP opponent, former NFL star Herschel Walker (R), by forcing their race into a December runoff.
That could also throw the fate of the Senate into limbo for another month if control of the Senate comes down to the Peach State — as it did in 2020.
Only a few polls show one of the nominees reaching a majority, with most showing both Warnock and Walker’s support clocking in within the high 40s.
A recent Emerson College-The Hill survey found Warnock leading with 48 percent support to Walker’s 46 percent.
About 1.3 percent said they would vote for Oliver, while other polls that included the Libertarian as an option show him with as much as 4 percent support.
The Emerson College-The Hill survey and most others enable respondents to indicate if they are undecided. Four percent of voters in the poll said they were undecided, with many likely to make a determination prior to showing up on Election Day and pushing one of the nominees over the majority threshold.
Betsy Johnson — Independent Oregon gubernatorial candidate
Oregon has elected Democratic governors consistently since 1986, but the introduction of Johnson as an Independent candidate has increased Democrats’ worries of holding the seat.
Johnson, a former Democratic state lawmaker who resigned from the state Senate last year upon announcing her campaign, is trailing behind Democrat Tina Kotek and Republican Christine Drazan in the polls.
But those surveys also show Johnson garnering double-digit support in the state, fueling concerns that her appeal will siphon off votes from Kotek and enable a Republican to become the state’s first governor in more than 30 years.
An Emerson College poll released earlier this month found Drazan with just a 2-point lead over Kotek, 36 percent to 34 percent.
Johnson, meanwhile, received 19 percent support, while 9 percent of voters were undecided.
President Biden visited the state over the weekend in the latest sign the Democratic hold on the Oregon’s governor mansion may be at risk.
The party is also facing a number of competitive House races in the state.
Erik Gerhardt — Libertarian Pennsylvania Senate candidate
Pennsylvania’s Senate contest is one of a handful that could determine control of the upper chamber for the next two years.
Polls have shown Republican Mehmet Oz catching up to Democrat John Fetterman as Republicans pummel Fetterman over crime and his health.
But Gerhardt, the Libertarian nominee, garnered 3.4 percent, an amount larger than the gap between the two major nominees.
With the contest turning into more of a nail-biter by the week, a small number of voters who opt to cast their ballot for Gerhardt over another nominee could shift the race’s outcome.
Polling shows Gerhardt as the most prominent third-party candidate, but voters will also see Green Party nominee Richard Weiss and Keystone Party nominee Daniel Wassmer on their ballots.
A Suffolk University-USA Today poll late last month found Weiss and Wassmer picking up a small number of votes in their sample, less than 1 percent each.