SANTA FE – Thanks in large part to Gary Johnson’s performance in the 2016 presidential election, Libertarians will have easier access to the ballot in New Mexico for this year’s election cycle.
A slate of Libertarian candidates is seeking to make the most of the newfound major party status – which will become official when Gov. Susana Martinez issues the 2018 election proclamation today.
Already, Libertarian candidates have launched campaigns for two statewide offices – attorney general and secretary of state – and all three congressional districts.
In addition, state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn officially switched his party affiliation last week from Republican to Libertarian and plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Martin Heinrich, Aubrey Dunn’s son, A. Blair Dunn, confirmed Sunday.
“We’re in it to run to win,” said the younger Dunn, an Albuquerque attorney and Republican-turned-Libertarian who himself is running for attorney general. “It’s a lot easier if we have credible candidates for New Mexicans to come to the middle and find us.”
Another Libertarian candidate with name recognition is former Democratic state Rep. Sandra Jeff, of Crownpoint, who recently changed her party affiliation and is running for secretary of state.
The Libertarian candidates are seeking to capitalize on disenchantment among registered Democratic and Republican voters, who combined make up more than three-quarters of registered state voters.
“The two-party system is broken and partisan politics is increasingly dividing our country and state,” said Lloyd Princeton, an entrepreneur and business owner who recently announced his campaign for the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District.
The two other Libertarian candidates running for Congress are Grady Owens of Otero County in the southern New Mexico-based 2nd Congressional District and Chris Manning of Kirtland in northern New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District.
Despite having major party status, the party still faces a daunting challenge in this year’s election cycle, as there were only 7,261 registered Libertarians statewide as of November 2017 – or less than 1 percent of total registered voters.
But, at least for this year, Libertarians will not face the daunting signature requirements they typically do for minor party candidates to land on the ballot.
The status change is primarily due to Johnson, who was a Republican when he served as New Mexico’s governor from 1995 through 2002, but ran for president as a Libertarian in 2016.
He won major party status for Libertarians by surpassing 5 percent of the popular vote – he actually pulled in 9.3 percent of the vote – in his home state of New Mexico.
While Johnson has said he’s done running for elected office, he has vowed to support Libertarian candidates running this year in New Mexico, Dunn said.
The state Libertarian Party will host a candidate meet-and-greet today at the Hotel Chaco in Albuquerque and plans to hold its pre-primary convention on March 3.
Meanwhile, the elevation of a minor party to major party status is rare but not unprecedented in New Mexico. For example, the Green Party achieved major party status in 1994 by securing 10 percent of the vote in a three-way governor’s race won by Johnson.