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Johnson Taking A New Tack

WASHINGTON – He’s flirted with the idea for weeks, and now former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson plans to make it official: He will abandon his bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination and try to become the Libertarian Party’s nominee instead.

“Gary has made no secret of the fact that he’s been very seriously considering running for the Libertarian nomination,” Johnson spokesman Joe Hunter said Wednesday.

Last month, Johnson told me he was considering running as a Libertarian, but that he still planned to compete in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation Republican primary election on Jan. 10.

Hunter said Wednesday that Johnson’s name will remain on the New Hampshire Republican primary ballot, “but as a practical matter, he won’t be competing.”

The news of Johnson’s planned party switch, first reported by Politico on Tuesday night, came as no surprise to those who have been following his frustrated bid for the Republican presidential nomination. The former two-term governor’s run as a Republican – launched on a blustery day in New Hampshire last April – seemed doomed almost from the outset.

Traditional GOP voters never warmed to Johnson’s socially liberal views, and he was excluded from all but two nationally televised Republican debates. Johnson’s New Hampshire-intensive campaign strategy also never jelled, despite the state’s reputation as a bastion of libertarian-minded conservatism.

The campaign disarray was painfully obvious in late October when Johnson’s New Hampshire staff almost missed the state’s primary election filing deadline. At that point, Johnson fired top staffers in the state and began thinking of an alternative strategy.

He will outline his new campaign plan at a news conference at the state Capitol in Santa Fe at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Hunter said.

Some political analysts suggested that Johnson’s entrance into the race as a Libertarian could peel away critical votes from the eventual Republic presidential nominee. Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said the former governor is a “credible” candidate but that the prognostication is premature.

“We just don’t know,” Sabato said. “We don’t even know if he’s going to get the nomination.”

Sabato pointed out that Johnson’s unorthodox views – including support for same-sex marriage and a dramatically scaled-back U.S. military – also could win substantial support among independent and even Democratic voters.

“Those who say he’ll take 100 percent of his votes from the Republican Party are incorrect,” Sabato said.

Carla Howell, executive director of the national Libertarian Party, welcomed Johnson to the party’s nominating contest, which will culminate with a vote in Las Vegas, Nev., in May. She said she doesn’t expect U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas – a Republican darling of the libertarian political movement – to also abandon the GOP race and compete as a Libertarian. Howell said Johnson is by far the highest-profile candidate in a Libertarian race that has six candidates.

“I think his entrance into the race will be significant,” Howell said.

The Libertarian Party’s last presidential candidate, in 2008, was former Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican. He received less than 1 percent of the national vote.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal