The last time Libertarian presidential hopeful Gary Johnson came stumping at the University of New Mexico he was welcomed by a few hundred folks in the final months of his 2012 campaign in which he garnered about 1 percent of the vote nationwide.
On Thursday night’s trip to UNM, in just the first few months of his presidential campaign, more than 70 people gathered to hear him speak, and a recent Monmouth University poll shows he has about 11 percent support now in a hypothetical three-way race with Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.
In an election cycle that has more than half of Americans reporting they aren’t thrilled with any of the major-party candidates, Johnson, who served two terms as a Republican governor of New Mexico from 1994 to 2003, said Thursday evening the time is ripe for a third-party candidate.
“Voters are fed up. We’re all fed up,” Johnson said.
Johnson is one of three leading Libertarian Party candidates seeking a nomination. John McAfee, developer of the popular antivirus software, and Austin Peterson, founder of a Libertarian magazine, are also seeking the nomination.
Third-party candidates, especially Libertarians, often rely on support from voters seeking an outsider. But this year’s election has two candidates already staking claim to that title: Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders.
“I get the (outsider) lure,” Johnson said, noting he agrees with Sanders on some social issues like marriage equality for homosexuals and a woman’s right to an abortion. He said he also understands the importance of free markets and entrepreneurship as Trump claims to value.
“I think people are hungry to vote for someone instead of against someone,” he said.
But getting in front of voters on a national stage is a challenge for third-party candidates.
Johnson and other third-party candidates have hovered in a limbo of exposure as pollsters say they don’t waste time on candidates who don’t participate in debates or receive substantive media attention while media and debate groups – including the national group run by Democrats and Republicans – say they don’t include candidates who poll less than, generally, 15 percent.
Johnson has funded a lawsuit against the Presidential Debate Commission, which organizes the nationally televised presidential debates, to gain access to the debates. The lawsuit is pending, but he said Thursday that he expects the U.S. Supreme Court will settle it before the general election.