A recent report by Gallup indicates muted support for third party candidates thus far in the 2008 presidential race. In an open-ended question asking likely voters for which candidate they would cast their presidential ballot, only 2 percent cited third party candidates (1 percent each for Libertarian candidate Bob Barr and independent candidate Ralph Nader).

Although the candidacies of Barr and Nader may not have gained traction yet nationally, third party candidates in other high profile statewide races are already making their mark.

For example, in Colorado’s open U.S. Senate race, the latest Rocky Mountain News poll (August 11-13) finds left-leaning independent candidate Buddy Moore receiving the support of 5 percent of registered voters and Green Party candidate Bob Kinsey earning another 2 percent. Democrat Mark Udall is favored to win this open seat, but currently holds just a 6-point lead over Republican Bob Schaffer.

In North Carolina’s U.S. Senate race, GOP incumbent and frontrunner Elizabeth Dole holds a mere 5-point lead in SurveyUSA’s August 9-11 poll of likely voters, while Libertarian Chris Cole is pulling down 7 percent. Cole’s candidacy may yet put the race in play for Democrat Kay Hagan.

In North Carolina’s open gubernatorial race, Republican Pat McCrory trails Democrat Beverly Perdue by 3 points, with Libertarian Mike Munger currently polling at 5 percent.

In the highly watched Oregon U.S. Senate race, GOP incumbent Gordon Smith has built a surprising double-digit cushion over Democrat Jeff Merkley according to the latest SurveyUSA poll (August 2-4), despite Constitution Party candidate Dave Brownlow netting an impressive 8 percent of likely voters. Smith was once considered a prized Democratic target, although the moderate Republican Senator has distanced himself early (and often) from President George W. Bush on the War in Iraq, which will earn him points in the Beaver State. Still, Republicans should worry that a strong Brownlow candidacy could tilt the race if it begins to narrow.

Democrats will be particularly interested in the next U.S. Senate poll conducted in Minnesota that includes the name of the Independence Party winner of the September 9th primary. The Independence Party vote is expected to be a drag on the candidacy of DFL-er Al Franken.