Americans watching for the rise of a new political party should pay particular attention to two races this year - Florida Senate and Colorado governor.
In Florida, a new Florida Chamber of Commerce poll shows Republican Marco Rubio out in front with 40 percent of the vote and independent Gov. Charlie Crist, a former Republican, seven points behind. This race looks increasing like a GOP victory. But the amazing thing is that Democrat Kendrick Meek registered only 16 percent.
That's a shockingly low number for a major party candidate. The poll, taken by respected Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, still shows 11 percent undecided or pledged to another, even more minor candidate, but this number suggests that Meek could finish under the 20 percent mark. Even in a three-way race, that's awful.
Certainly Crist's only available path to victory is to convince Democrats that Meek is not viable and drive his numbers down even further.
Owing to Florida's long history of racially divided politics and the resentment of many Democrats for Crist's embrace of John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008 will probably keep Meek from falling away, but certainly numbers like these must dispirit Democrats and hurt turnout for down-ballot races.
In Colorado, it's Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Maes who is slipping down to third-party kind of numbers.
Maes has resume problems (he claimed to have been an undercover police officer in Kansas but later changed his account) and made some unusual statements about Denver's membership in an environmentalist do-gooder group as part of an effort to bring Denver under the control of the United Nations.
The latest Rasmussen Reports poll in Colorado shows Democrat John Hickenlooper out in front with 43 percent, former Rep. Tom Tancredo, running on the American Constitution Party ticket, in second place with 35 percent and Maes at 16 percent.
Tancredo's situation is similar to Crist's - he needs to push Maes' numbers down further to get ahead. Tancredo actually has a better chance than Crist does in Florida. Maes is less palatable to Republicans than Meek is to Democrats. Plus, while Crist is a former Republican trying to raid Democratic turf, Tancredo is a former GOPer and a five-term House member who ran for president.
But as a Tea Party hopeful or any of Michael Bloomberg's strategists look at these numbers, it becomes clear that as hard as third party bids can be, the right circumstances can mean success. And those circumstances generally involve utter failure on the part of one of the established candidates.
If President Obama is looking very shaky, a Democratic-leaning independent could have a chance in 2012. Conversely, if Republicans nominate someone stuck far behind in the polls as the year drags on, a Republican-leaning independent might emerge.
Then it's a game of knockout.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.