For the record: This story has been modified to reflect that Gary Johnson struggled in an attempt to name a world leader during an MSNBC Town Hall and declined to give the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a New York Times interview.
Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Gary Johnson has run for governor of New Mexico twice and won both times, and he has run for president of the United States twice and lost both times.
He’s already talking about his next challenge, but it won’t be a try for public office. It will be on a bike, riding nearly 3,000 miles along the Continental Divide from Canada down into New Mexico.
“It’s sometime in early June,” he said.
Johnson, 63, a Taos resident and an ardent triathlete, is referring to the 2,768-mile Great Divide Mountain Bike Route from Banff in Alberta, Canada, to Antelope Wells in New Mexico’s Hidalgo County. He said he is done with political races. At least done with running in them himself.
“I’m dedicating myself to health and fitness,” Johnson said. “Maybe I stay politically active, but not as a candidate. I will leave that to others.”
Johnson spoke with the Journal on Tuesday evening in a quiet, dimly lighted room in the Hotel Albuquerque, down the hall from the ballroom where his supporters were starting to gather for his election night party. It was just after 6 p.m. Polls had closed back East, but they were still open in New Mexico and points West.
Even so, Johnson, the Libertarian candidate in this year’s presidential battle with Democrat Hillary Clinton, and Republican and eventual winner Donald Trump, did not need to see returns in order to see the writing on the wall. He knew he was not going to be the next president of the United States. By this point, he was just hoping to secure 5 percent of the nationwide popular vote, enough to achieve major-party status for the Libertarian Party and qualify the party for federal funding in the next election.
“This is a head-on effort to get on the ballot in all 50 states,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I’m hoping this is going to end the two-party system.”
But Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, fell short. Latest totals show they garnered more than 4 million votes, 3 percent of the total.
“Achieving 5 percent would clearly have been significant, but we worked hard and garnered more votes than any third-party candidate since Ross Perot,” Johnson said.
Businessman Perot ran as independent in the 1992 presidential campaign.
“Given that we spent less than 1 percent as much as Trump and Clinton, the level of support we received is historic,” Johnson said. “We made a credible third-party ticket part of the national conversation. Both major parties will be doing a lot of soul searching in the weeks and months ahead. We can hope that the results will be policies that reflect the priorities of people, not partisans.”
Wanted an invite
Johnson and Weld did get 9.3 percent of the New Mexico vote, making it possible for the Libertarian Party to get major-party recognition and public funding for elections in this state. And they got 6.3 percent of the vote in North Dakota, Johnson’s native state.
All in all, it was a more successful run than Johnson’s 2012 bid for the presidency, also on the Libertarian ticket. In 2012, he received 1.2 million votes, just shy of 1 percent.
Johnson, a successful businessman before he got into politics, campaigned on the solid Libertarian planks of fiscal conservatism, social inclusiveness, avoiding military intervention and free market policy. Johnson also favors the legalization of marijuana, a policy he first advocated publicly in 1999 during his second term as New Mexico governor.
He would have liked the chance to talk more about his policies on a national stage during this year’s race.
“The hope was to get in the presidential debates and that didn’t happen,” Johnson said.
He was not invited to take part in the debates because he did not attain 15 percent support in five polls set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Johnson is still ticked off about that. He said he realizes there has to be some cutoff point, that not just anyone who says he’s running for president should be allowed in the debates. But he argues that he was polling higher than Perot was when Perot was permitted to participate in the 1992 debates.
Some of the national attention Johnson did get during the race proved damaging.
When he was asked, during a MSNBC program, what he would do about Aleppo, a key city in the Syrian civil war, Johnson initially thought it was an acronym for something. He also fumbled an attempt to name a world leader he respected during an MSNBC Town Hall and declined to give the name of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a New York Times interview.
But he said he had no regrets about his campaign.
“We all make mistakes,” he said. “We are all human. If I had one regret, it would have been not to have done this. But I have no regrets. None.”
On Tuesday, before enough poll results were in to guess which way the election was going, Johnson said he did not favor Clinton over Trump or Trump over Clinton.
“If I supported either one, I would not be running,” he said. “I find it flattering that both sides are saying I’m taking votes from them. I think Libertarians take the best from both sides.”
Johnson ran as a Republican in his successful bids for New Mexico governor in 1994 and 1998, but he said he has identified as a Libertarian since the early 1970s. He believes a third party is necessary to focus the national discussion on issues rather than character assassinations. And he thinks the next election will see Libertarian candidates up and down the ticket.
“Vote your conscience,” he told supporters Tuesday evening after the polls had closed. “The only wasted vote is not voting for what you believe in.”