After his spirited performance in last Thursday's debate, independent candidate for governor Chris Daggett has seen the number people Googling him increase by 40 times over last year.

Voters who want to pull the lever for Daggett will need to embark on a similar sort of search come election day - to find his name on their ballot.

Daggett is one of 10 independent and minor party candidates in the race.

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A week ago, voters may not have known what separated him from the other nine.

But since Daggett put on a bright pink tie and took his televised opportunity Thursday to lay into his opponents, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine and Republican Chris Christie, voters may now want to seek him out.

His obstacle: New Jersey laws reserving the top two spots on any ballot for the two major-party candidates.

Last month, Daggett - along with Libertarian Party candidate Kenneth Kaplan - took the step of filing suit against the practice.

The suit argued the system was unconstitutional because it gives an unfair advantage to those backed by major parties.

But the state Superior Court Judge Theodore Bozonelis declined to hear the case before November's vote.

So, where does that leave Daggett? Thanks to county-wide ballot drawings Aug. 10 - languishing in hard-to-find spots on hard-to-read vote grids.

Some county ballots list candidates in rows, like a shopping-list.

Others rack the names in horizontal columns.

In two of the key southern New Jersey counties, Atlantic and Ocean, Daggett received the last-possible placement among the columns.

Don't even run your index finger along the same line as Corzine and Christie - Daggett is tucked a row below.

Meanwhile, in Cape May, he was the eighth of the 10 to be drawn.

Only in Cumberland does Daggett get to sit alongside the major-party guys - but at the far right-hand side, in column F.

"It's a problem," said Tom Johnson, spokesman for Daggett, flatly. "We want as many people to find Chris' name, and, of course, this makes it hard."

Ben Dworkin, director of Rider University's Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, agreed.

"It makes a big difference," he said. "The political system is set up to favor the two major parties - and any time you make it harder for people to do something, fewer of them do it."

"Ballot position does matter - and I think the 2000 election is an example of why that's true," said Brigid Harrison, professor of political science at Montclair State University, refering to the close presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, where voting-machine glitches allowed votes to be mistakenly cast for third-party candidates. But, citing "gut instinct," she said position would only cost Daggett a statistical percentage-point or two.

But both Dworkin and Harrison added that other factors will be at work within the voting booth.

"Particularly with Daggett voters, these are people who have made a conscious decision to split with the main-party system and vote for him," said Harrison. "So it's well within their capabilities to scope out and vote for Chris Daggett."

Dworkin, however, said that Daggett's election-day performance may not match his poll numbers - simply because voters find it easier to tell pollsters they're leaning to a third party than to act on it.

"They may feel they're throwing their vote away," Dworkin said.

Back in Cape May, county clerk Rita Marie Fulginiti recalled other local independent candidates who had made light of their lowly ballot position.

She particularly noted one erstwhile candidate for various public offices. "We had one gentleman, Andrea Lippi, who would use his candidate's message space to promote his poetry," she recalled.

But for Daggett, the stakes just got a bit higher than just words.

E-mail Juliet Fletcher:

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