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For hard-line conservatives, the last few months have been a time to embrace long odds. At first, their hope was that Ted Cruz could claw just enough electoral votes away from Donald Trump to force a contested Republican National Convention. Well, now that Trump is the de facto nominee, the latest against-all-odds plan is for some conservatives, somewhere, to launch a third-party presidential bid. NPR's Scott Detrow took a look at the logistics of mounting a challenge this late.
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Here's what Donald Trump's opponents have sounded like lately.
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ERICK ERICKSON: There is going to have to be the groundwork for a new political party in the country.
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BEN SASSE: I don't think you're going to have simply two choices of two dishonest New York liberals.
DETROW: That's conservative commentator Erick Erickson and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, both speaking to NPR within the last few months. Michael Arno has been listening to all of this. And well, he's getting pretty annoyed.
MICHAEL ARNO: I say it's, you know, it's a ludicrous thought.
DETROW: He knows from experience. Arno is one of the country's top experts on gathering signatures to get candidates and initiatives on statewide ballots. Earlier this year, Arno worked for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the billionaire weighed a third-party presidential bid.
ARNO: We started going through all of the rules and setting up and budgeting and doing all the things you've got to do. And we felt we were even late in doing so. We did that in January.
DETROW: Nearly every state is different, but most require registration fees, voters signatures or both. Bloomberg decided early March was his drop-dead date for determining whether or not to run because after that, the first wave of state deadlines was just too close. In fact, the deadline for Texas, the second-largest haul in the electoral college, it was yesterday.
Speaking via Skype, Arno says impending deadlines and high signature thresholds probably make it very, very hard to get on the ballot in Florida and North Carolina too.
ARNO: If you can't win Florida and you can't win Texas, your chances of winning the presidency is essentially nothing.
DETROW: If you're running as that hypothetical conservative white-knight candidate, that is. Not everyone's as pessimistic as Arno. Richard Winger runs a newsletter and website called Ballot Access News. He's 72 and has been following minor parties' fights to get on the ballot for half a century. Winger says another option is piggybacking onto another party's spot on the ballot.
RICHARD WINGER: One-third of the states, 17 states, have ballot-qualified third parties on the ballot right now - so they don't need to petition - that are just organized in that one state.
DETROW: And you can always sue. Winger points out that in 1980, independent candidate John Anderson ended up on the ballot in five states where he had missed the deadline.
WINGER: And it just seems to me obvious that if Texas were sued, they'd lose.
DETROW: No matter what, the effort would cost millions, 10 million or more according to Michael Arno. And then there's the track record of third-party candidates. Ross Perot won nearly 19 percent of the vote in 1992 but earned zero in the electoral college. Here's what Perot told CNN's Larry King at the beginning of his campaign.
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ROSS PEROT: If you're that serious, you, the people, are that serious, you register me in 50 states. And if you're not willing to organize and do that, then this is all just talk.
DETROW: All just talk. If advocates like Erick Erickson and Ben Sasse wanted to be anything else, they need to move quickly. Scott Detrow, NPR News.
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