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Johnson Likely to get Libertarian Nomination

May 3, 2012Posted in Blog, News

May 2, 2012 | By Steve Terrell |

Former Gov. Gary Johnson is on the verge of winning the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president, but he’s reluctant to claim victory yet.

“I wouldn’t take anything for granted yet,” he said of the Libertarian nominating process, which takes place Saturday at the party’s national convention in Las Vegas, Nev. But a moment later, he added, “It does look good.”

Johnson has even chosen his preferred running mate — Jim Gray, a retired California superior court judge, who, like Johnson, is a longtime opponent of marijuana laws. Gray is the only announced Libertarian candidate for vice president.

But even if Johnson wins the Libertarian nod this weekend, he acknowledged his path won’t be easy. In an interview Wednesday, Johnson said any hope of being competitive with Democratic President Barack Obama and likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney in November depends on him being included in the presidential debates in October.

But because of the steep standards set by the organization that organizes the debates, that’s not easy for any third-party candidate. The last to be included in the debates was Ross Perot in 1992.

Johnson said if he can get on the stage with Obama and Romney, he would have a shot at winning. But as Johnson himself said, “That’s a big ‘if.’ ”

The two-term governor, who had been a lifelong Republican, left the GOP early this year after months of being ignored and excluded during his frustrating campaign to win the Republican nomination.

He’d assumed that his reputation as a tight-fisted, small-government, small-taxes advocate who was not afraid to veto hundreds of bills would appeal to GOP primary voters.

However, his libertarian positions on gay marriage, abortion and drug-law reform didn’t catch on with socially conservative Republicans. Plus, Ron Paul, himself a former Libertarian Party presidential nominee, announced his candidacy shortly after Johnson entered the Republican race. The better-known Paul was invited to all the GOP debates, while Johnson was only allowed to participate in two.

But — assuming he’s the Libertarian nominee — being excluded from debates could become Johnson’s biggest problem again.

According to the website of the Commission on Presidential Debates, candidates included “must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to have a mathematical chance of winning a majority vote in the Electoral College, and have a level of support of at least 15 percent of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations’ most recent publicly reported results at the time of the determination.”

Getting on state ballots shouldn’t be a problem for Libertarians. Several times in the past they’ve been on the ballot in all 50 states. “West Virginia has the most impediments,” Johnson said.

But the polling requirement is another story.

So far, the only national polling organization that has included Johnson as a third choice is Public Policy Polling, a North Carolina-based company affiliated with the Democratic Party. In late March, a nationwide Public Policy Polling survey found Johnson taking 7 percent of the vote, (with Obama at 46 percent and Romney at 39 percent).

Johnson said he believes that if he continues polling at least 6 percent or 7 percent in the Public Policy Polling surveys, other national polling organizations will begin including him. “If you’re a reputable pollster, you couldn’t ignore that,” he said.

The former governor also said he could get a boost from those who supported Paul in the primaries when the Texas congressman ends his campaign. While Johnson said he does not expect to be endorsed by Paul himself, he said, “What happens to Ron Paul supporters? I believe they’ll find me to be a very credible alternative.”

But will Johnson be able to raise his poll numbers up to 15 percent? Public Policy Polling is doubtful. “I doubt Johnson will really get anywhere close to 7 percent in the general [election],” said the company’s blog in March after publishing the poll showing Johnson at that level.

In its 40-year history, the Libertarian Party only once received more than 1 percent of the national popular vote. The party has never carried a state. The sole electoral vote it ever received was in 1972, when a dissident Richard Nixon elector from Virginia cast his ballot for Libertarian candidate John Hospers. (That elector, Roger McBride, was the Libertarian presidential candidate four years later.)

Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at The University of New Mexico, said support for third parties typically dwindles the closer you get to Election Day. She expects the same thing to happen with Johnson. “I bet he doesn’t get more than 5 percent of the vote [in New Mexico],” she said.

A late April Public Policy Polling survey of New Mexico voters found Johnson getting 15 percent of the vote in a three-way race. (Obama was supported by 48 percent of those polled, while Romney had 35 percent.) But Johnson’s numbers have declined here in more recent polls. In December, 23 percent of New Mexico voters said they’d vote for Johnson for president.

Atkeson said third parties losing steam is mainly due to “institutional design,” or the fact that in most states, including New Mexico, the Electoral College vote is winner-take-all. Many voters, therefore, are afraid that if they vote for a third-party candidate who is closest to them in ideology, it could damage the major-party candidate who’s ideology is not quite as close to their own and help elect the candidate furthest away from their political leanings.

Also, people predominantly vote for a particular party, Atkeson said. Throughout the campaign, Democrats and Republicans constantly remind people why they are members of their party. “There’s a lot of emphasis on partisanship,” she said. “Campaigns remind people where their self-interest is.”

Johnson said Wednesday he’s not concerned about the fact his New Mexico number shrank in Public Policy Polling’s latest poll. “Is that last poll correct? Or is a correction of the previous poll? I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it at this point, just like I wouldn’t party all night long if the number was bigger now.”

Historically, third parties haven’t played much of a role in New Mexico presidential politics. The best showing of a third-party candidate was in 1912 — the first year New Mexico became a state. That year, Theodore Roosevelt, running on the Progressive or “Bull Moose” ticket, won 16.9 percent of the vote. That was well behind Roosevelt’s national showing of 27 percent.

The Bull Moose vote in the state nearly was matched 80 years later when Reform Party candidate Perot won 16.1 percent of New Mexico’s popular vote in 1992.

Santa Fe New Mexico .com

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