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Gary Johnson weighs bid for U.S. Senate

Gary Johnson (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn plans to drop his campaign for U.S. Senate – and Libertarians are hoping they can get a familiar name to take his place on the November general election ballot.

That would be former New Mexico governor and two-time presidential candidate Gary Johnson, who confirmed Friday that he would give the race a close look.

“If the opportunity arises to run for the Senate, I will give it serious consideration,” Johnson told the Journal in a statement. “To be clear, though, I will not run unless I believe I can win.”

If he ultimately decides to jump into the race, Johnson would still have to win the vote of Libertarian Party insiders to officially fill the party’s vacancy and become its nominee, though that would likely be a given. But he would be getting into the race late, with Election Day just over three months away.

Johnson, a Taos resident, was a Republican when he served as New Mexico’s governor from 1995 through 2002. He later switched his party affiliation to Libertarian and ran for president in 2012 and 2016.

Former Gov. Gary Johnson greets supporters in the lobby of the Hotel Albuquerque on election night 2016, when he was Libertarian candidate for president. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

After the 2016 presidential race, Johnson vowed he was done with political races, though he said he would remain politically active.

Libertarians have major party status for this year’s state election cycle, largely because Johnson received 9.3 percent of the New Mexico votes in the 2016 presidential race.

His best showing was in Los Alamos County, where he and his running mate received nearly 14 percent of the vote.

Taking advantage of their newfound status, Libertarian candidates have qualified to be on the ballot for three statewide offices – attorney general, secretary of state and land commissioner – and in two of the state’s three congressional districts.

But the party has also encountered organizational challenges, as its write-in candidates for governor and lieutenant governor failed to get enough votes in the primary election to make it onto the Nov. 6 ballot, even after Libertarians paid for a vote recount.

Dunn, who changed his party affiliation earlier this year from Republican to Libertarian, was elected land commissioner in 2014 and is currently the only Libertarian holding statewide elected office in the nation. He could have run for re-election to land commissioner this year, but instead set his sights on the U.S. Senate seat held by incumbent Martin Heinrich, a Democrat.

Dunn’s decision to withdraw from the race would leave just Heinrich and Republican Mick Rich, an Albuquerque contractor who’s making his first run for elected office, in the race for now.

Although no Libertarian has ever won election to the U.S. Senate, Johnson’s possible return to New Mexico politics could shake up the Senate race and help other Libertarian candidates.

A successful businessman before he got into politics, Johnson created waves – and opposition from some other Republicans – in 1999 when he publicly advocated for the legalization of drugs, including marijuana. In addition, his propensity for vetoing bills passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature earned him the nickname “Governor No.”

An avid skier and triathlete, Johnson recently completed a 2,800-mile Continental Divide bike race – from the town of Banff, Alberta, in the Canadian Rockies to the Mexican border at Antelope Wells.