Gary Johnson featured on Politico

from The Gary Johnson factor 7/8/12

Poll after poll shows lackluster enthusiasm for Obama and Romney, along with continuing voter disgust with Washington and most national institutions. That could put just enough ballots in Johnson’s column — in a kind of disaffected,“throw-the-bums-out” way — to affect the outcome in a handful of states.

Early polling has shown Johnson taking more from Romney, although pollsters say he’s peeling off votes from Obama as well.

If there’s an opportunity for Johnson to make a difference anywhere, it’s likely in Mountain states such as his native New Mexico, and Colorado and Nevada, where he could shave votes from the major-party candidates. In a close race that neither side thinks will be an electoral landslide, Johnson could make a real difference — especially with Ron Paul’s libertarian-leaning backers now up for grabs.

“The people who are saying they’re going vote for Johnson right now generally are people who dislike both Obama and Romney,” said Tom Jensen, of the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

“I’d like to think it’s because of what I’m saying,” the former governor told POLITICO in an interview, referring to polls showing him getting well above 5 percent in some swing states.

“It’s not so much the discontent, although that may be a factor,” he added, invoking Paul’s own declaration when the Texas congressman ended his active campaigning that he still had a following who embraces his small government, libertarian message.

“I really think Gary Johnson takes New Mexico off the table for Mitt Romney,” said Jill Hanauer, president of the Democratic firm Project New America, which polls Western states. Colorado, Hanauer said, is another state that’s ripe for Johnson’s influence, especially given the fight there over a ballot referendum to legalize medical marijuana that Johnson supports. A PPP survey recently showed the former governor getting seven percent of the vote, and pushing Obama’s lead wider there over Romney. Nevada also has potential.

“In Nevada, we saw a lot of support during the Republican primary for Ron Paul. … I bet a million bucks they’re going to turn their eyes to Gary Johnson,” Hanauer said. “And the Republican Party [there] is economically conservative, but Nevadans are generally very moderate on social issues.” In a PowerPoint presentation to donors, Romney’s campaign has identified Colorado, Arizona and Nevada as three states on their battleground map. Obama’s map is looser than Romney’s, with more avenues to 270 electoral votes — but the president would be more than happy to have the help of Johnson in locking Romney out of certain states.

Yet Johnson’s biggest problems, as Hanauer said, are “money and time.” He would need help from, say, a super PAC to amplify his message.

“It [super PAC funding] would be a big help,” Johnson said, adding, “It does seem there are a few [major donors] that are interested,” although he didn’t elaborate.

Johnson sees himself drawing from both Obama and Romney, something most pollsters agree with. And he believes he has more than regional appeal as a tax-cutting, small-government deficit hawk who also supports gay rights and legalizing marijuana.

He summarized Romney’s budget prescriptions as: “I’m going to balance the budget, BUT I’m going to increase spending for the military a little bit, and I’m going to hold Medicare intact.” Quipped Johnson: “I finished the second grade and the mathematics of the second grade tell me that what he’s talking about is not possible.”

Yet the president, Johnson says, skipped opportunities to get cleanly out of Afghanistan, has disappointed medical marijuana advocates — a major Johnson issue and one that plays well in Colorado — and also has done poorly on the economy.

“I believe he’ll do better than any Libertarian candidate for president has ever done in previous presidential elections,” said Allen Weh, who headed the New Mexico Republican Party for half a decade.

“Gary is remembered, and well-respected, by most New Mexicans as a good governor who took good care of the state and kept us in the black,” Weh said.

Former Colorado Rep. Bob Beauprez, a Republican and Romney supporter, acknowledged that it’s “possible” Johnson could shave off enough votes from one party or another to tip the race in his state.

It does not take that many disaffected, pox-on-both-your-houses votes to swing an election that’s as close as the one in 2012. It doesn’t take a Perot-like phenomenon to make a difference on the margins.

Just ask Al Gore about Ralph Nader’s performance in New Hampshire and Florida in 2000. And the electorate’s loathing of Washington and the two major political parties has only grown since then.

Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston wrote in a portentous Friday column that Republicans wouldn’t be out of bounds if they took active steps toward thwarting Johnson’s campaign.

“In case you think they worry too much — and in case you wonder why they may try [quixotically, perhaps] to stop the state’s Libertarian Party from nominating Gary Johnson to be on the November ballot — remember 1998: John Ensign lost to Harry Reid by 428 votes. The Libertarian candidate, Michael Cloud, received 8,044 votes” Ralston wrote.