FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Libertarian Party again nominated former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as its presidential candidate Sunday, believing he can challenge presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton because of their poor showing in popularity polls.
Johnson, 63, won the nomination on the second ballot at the party’s convention in Orlando, Florida, defeating Austin Petersen, the founder of The Libertarian Republic magazine; and anti-computer virus company founder John McAfee. The delegates selected former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld to be his vice presidential running mate.
Johnson, the party’s nominee in 2012, told the delegates during his acceptance speech that his job will be to get the Libertarian platform before the voters at a level the party has not seen.
“I am fiscally conservative in spades and I am socially liberal in spades,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “I would cut back on military interventions that have the unintended consequence of making us less safe in the world.”
On fiscal matters, Libertarians push for reduced spending and taxes, saying the federal government has gotten too big across the board. Johnson proposes eliminating federal income and corporate taxes and replacing those with a national sales tax.
He would reduce domestic spending by eliminating the Internal Revenue Service, the Commerce and Education departments, the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
On social issues, Libertarians generally support abortion rights, gun rights, same-sex marriage and drug legalization, saying people should be allowed to do anything that doesn’t hurt others.
Johnson served as New Mexico’s governor from 1995 to 2003 as a Republican after a career as the owner of one of that state’s largest construction companies.
After failing to gain traction in the GOP’s 2012 primaries, he changed his registration to Libertarian shortly before running for that party’s nomination that year. He won the nomination and got just short of 1 percent of the general election vote against President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
For Johnson to make a serious run this year, he needs to qualify for the presidential debates. To do that, he must average 15 percent in five recognized polls.
He hopes that is doable because Trump and Clinton are both seen unfavorably by a majority of voters, according to recent polls.
Johnson will also need to overcome a huge financial disadvantage and history.
In 2012, Obama and Romney spent over a billion dollars each, a figure Trump and Clinton, if she is the Democratic nominee, are expected to also reach. Johnson spent $2.5 million in 2012, about one dollar for every 400 Obama and Romney each spent. Johnson hopes to raise “tens of millions of dollars” this time.
“Then we can leverage that to a level where we could wage political war” by hiring staff and running TV and radio commercials, Johnson said. He said Weld will help in this effort, having raised about $250 million during his political career compared to Johnson’s $8 million. Weld, 70, was Massachusetts governor from 1991 to 1997, also as a Republican.
The Libertarian Party has been running presidential tickets since 1972, but has never been a major factor. The party’s best showing was 1980, when candidate Ed Clark got slightly more than 1 percent of the vote. The only electoral vote the party has received was in 1972, when a renegade Virginia elector pledged to President Richard Nixon cast his ballot for Libertarian John Hospers instead.
Third parties have never won a U.S. presidential election. Former Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, running on the Bull Moose Party ticket, got 27 percent of the popular vote and 88 electoral votes in 1912. He finished second to Democrat Woodrow Wilson, the only time a third party candidate has finished that well.
Other notable third-party runs include former Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who got 13 percent of the popular vote in 1968, winning 45 electoral votes; and billionaire businessman Ross Perot, who got 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992 but no electoral votes.