We are in the midst of a presidential race lacking in passion. After four years, with the economy languishing, the optimism Obama appeared to represent last time is absent. Democrats will go to the polls without a spring in their step, to keep Romney out rather than save Obama’s neck. Even the president himself, if his hangdog look in the first debate is any guide, has lost his mojo. Obama has achieved what Romney could not: He has angered his own supporters for not fighting hard enough for the ideas they cherish.

On the Republican side, conservatives and libertarians will vote for Romney more out of duty than in the belief he will represent their views in government. They feel the Republican establishment has foisted Romney upon them because he seemed likely to appeal to middle-ground voters who decide elections. They think his lack of genuine commitment to conservative ideology means he will win the White House, then ignore their wishes, just as the Bushes, father and son, did before him. Conservatives will be voting as much to prevent Obama’s second term as to elect Romney.

These seem the perfect circumstances for a third-party candidate. In fact there are others offering themselves as president, though you may be excused for not knowing their names. They include Gary Johnson of the Libertarians, Jill Stein of the Greens, even the comedienne Roseanne Bar, who promises to legalize marijuana, forgive student debt and end all wars. But none of the above, or a further seven nobodies on the ballot, stand a chance. Without billions to spend and a popular head of steam, they are ignored by the press and cannot penetrate the public consciousness.

In the past, third-party candidates who have made a mark have either, like Ross Perot, Steve Forbes, and John B. Anderson, paid for their own campaign, or, like Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan, enjoyed a national reputation. In 1992, Perot’s brief candidacy took support away from George H.W. Bush and helped ease Bill Clinton into the White House, while many believe Ralph Nader’s intervention in the 2000 photo finish made George W. Bush president.

If there is a lack of enthusiasm on both sides this time, why has a third candidate not emerged? First, no towering figure backed by billions is prepared to run. There was briefly a lot of excited talk about New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, entering the race, but it fizzled. Ron Paul’s failure to win the GOP nomination encouraged his supporters to think he might run as an independent, but Paul appears to believe challenging Romney would diminish his son Senator Rand Paul’s chances of eventually winning over the Republican Party to libertarianism. Having failed to gain traction in the Republican race, Donald Trump might have offered himself as an independent, but even he was not prepared to fund such an expensive ego trip.