Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, after winning the Libertarian Party presidential nomination Saturday, said he has a shot at an upset victory in November if he can make it into nationally televised debates.
“If that happens, I want to suggest to you that anything can happen,” said Johnson, who is known for unconventional views and taking on challenges.
Johnson, in a Journal telephone interview from the Libertarian Party’s national convention in Las Vegas, said he wouldn’t be in the race if he didn’t believe he could beat Democratic President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Libertarian presidential nominees have a history of winning less than 1 percent of the national vote. But Johnson, a 59-year-old self-made millionaire, mountain climber and triathlete, might appeal to a broader set of voters with his liberal views on social issues, such as marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage, and record of fiscal conservatism.
“I’m honored to have the nomination, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I could win; I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think I could do a better job than the candidates the two major parties are going to present,” Johnson said.
Johnson said his “pie-in-the-sky” road to winning the White House as a Libertarian candidate would require getting 15 percent of voter support in pre-election polling to be invited to join Obama and Romney in nationally televised debates.
In debates, Johnson says, many voters will recognize him as a viable alternative to Republicans and Democrats.
“I don’t think either Obama or Romney are offering up solutions to the problems that the country faces,” Johnson said. “I think that the Libertarian Party really embraces the best of what we really care about. … I think the majority of Americans consider themselves fiscally responsible and socially tolerant. That’s the Libertarian Party and what they stand for.”
Getting on the debate stage would also allow Johnson’s campaign to lure million of dollars in campaign contributions that will be needed to keep his campaign competitive, he said.
Johnson says at least one national poll reports his campaign winning support of about 8 percent of voters across the U.S., just over half the number required to appear in most of the national televised presidential debates.
Johnson dropped his bid for the Republican presidential nomination late last year and switched to the Libertarian Party, after being largely ignored by national media and shut out of debates as a GOP candidate.
Johnson earned his fortune as a construction company owner in Albuquerque, then won two terms as New Mexico’s governor, serving from 1995 through 2002. Between being governor and running for president, he climbed Mount Everest and moved to Taos, where he skis much of the season.
While pursuing his athletic endeavors, including participation in Ironman triathalons, Johnson was perhaps best known as governor for opposing the Democratic-controlled Legislature and vetoing record numbers of spending bills. Going the privatization route, he also completed several major highway and prison construction projects.
“I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t basing it on having been a successful governor in New Mexico,” Johnson said.
Johnson does not see himself as a “spoiler” for Obama or Romney, saying that he expects his positions on drug legalization and reduced government spending will evenly draw voters away from both major party candidates.
Johnson cited a recent Public Policy Polling survey taken in New Mexico that found he drew down Obama’s voter support by about 6 percentage points and Romney’s voter support by about 5 percentage points. “What I’ve always maintained is that it will end up (pulling) equally from both parties,” Johnson said of his candidacy.
That poll, which has been criticized as slanted toward Democrats, reported that 15 percent of New Mexico voters said they would vote for Johnson.
At the Libertarian Party’s national convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Johnson won 74 percent of the party vote on the first round of voting. In 2008, Libertarian delegates voted six times before coming to a consensus for the party nomination.
Johnson is the first presidential candidate to be formally nominated for the 2012 election.
“To my knowledge, the Libertarian Party has never nominated a candidate on the first ballot before, and I did do that. It’s terrific,” Johnson said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal