Seeks 15 per­cent in polls to face Clin­ton, Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

With an elec­torate to­tally dis­en­chanted with the two ma­jor par­ties’ of­fer­ings, Lib­er­tar­ian Party pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Gary John­son has a unique chance to make a splash this year — and he’s de­ter­mined to do things dif­fer­ently than in his 2012 cam­paign.

Gone are the low-yield in­ter­views with “in­ter­net ra­dio” shows, and Mr. John­son also says he’ll prob­a­bly skip out on trolling the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can con­ven­tions.

More sig­nif­i­cantly, he said he’ll prob­a­bly re­verse his 2012 de­ci­sion and re­ject pub­lic fi­nanc­ing this year, in­stead try­ing to raise his own cam­paign cash.

“The tar­get is tens of mil­lions of dol­lars, and we need to show that or we’re not cred­i­ble,” Mr. John­son told The Wash­ing­ton Times. “That’s just the re­al­ity.”

He sat down with The Wash­ing­ton Times af­ter he won the Lib­er­tar­ian Party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion for a sec­ond elec­tion in a row, and in­sisted this year is dif­fer­ent, both be­cause he’s bet­ter pre­pared and be­cause Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton have chased vot­ers out of their own par­ties.

One ma­jor dif­fer­ence this time is that Mr. John­son, a for­mer two-term gov­er­nor of New Mex­ico, has for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Wil­liam Weld as his run­ning mate.

Not only do they each have more ex­ec­u­tive elected ex­pe­ri­ence than ei­ther Mrs. Clin­ton or Mr. Trump, but Mr. Weld’s pres­ence has al­ready helped the ticket line up meet­ings with po­ten­tial fi­nanciers.

And the Lib­er­tar­i­ans are get­ting out­side help from po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tees that know how to play the game.

Ed Crane, the founder and pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of the Cato In­sti­tute, a lib­er­tar­i­an­lean­ing think tank, said re­cently that he’s switch­ing his Pur­ple PAC group, which had backed Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 GOP pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, to be a pro-John­son out­fit.

“I think there’s go­ing to be sig­nif­i­cant money out­side of the cam­paign,” said Mr. Crane. “The pur­pose of all the PACs, as far as I am con­cerned at this junc­ture, is to raise Gary’s pro­file to the point where he gets 15 per­cent in the polls or more and, there­fore, is in the de­bates.”

Matt Kibbe, who left the con­ser­va­tive ad­vo­cacy group Free­domWorks last year to work on the pro-Paul Con­cerned Amer­i­can Vot­ers group, also re­cently started an out­side group called Al­ter­na­tivePAC in an ef­fort to boost Mr. John­son’s can­di­dacy.

Both Mr. Crane and Mr. Kibbe said in ad­di­tion to sway­ing mid­dle-of-the-road vot­ers, Mr. John­son can also win over dis­af­fected sup­port­ers of Sen. Bernard San­ders who are fed up with pol­i­tics as usual.

“This ticket has ap­peal po­ten­tially across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum,” Mr. Kibbe said, say­ing one goal is to tar­get mil­len­nials who have been turned off by Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clin­ton.

He said he hopes to raise $1 mil­lion in the next few weeks and $4 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion for the cy­cle.

“Once he’s in the de­bates, the money’s just go­ing to pour in,” Mr. Crane said. “Be­cause if you have Gary John­son — smart, knowl­edge­able, hon­est — up against Hil­lary and Trump on the same plat­form, the best can­di­date will be so ob­vi­ous to the av­er­age Amer­i­can that it should be a unique point in Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal history.”

The Real Clear Pol­i­tics av­er­age of polls puts Mr. John­son at 8.5 per­cent sup­port na­tion­ally — when he’s in­cluded in the polling. In state polling he runs as high as 16 per­cent in Utah, but is in the low- or mid-sin­gle dig­its in key Elec­toral Col­lege bat­tle­grounds such as Florida and Georgia.

Mr. John­son ac­knowl­edged he can’t make a cred­i­ble run if he doesn’t get into the pres­i­den­tial de­bates — and that means he must poll at least 15 per­cent. He says with the un­pop­u­lar­ity of Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clin­ton, it should be pos­si­ble to break that thresh­old this year.

“We’d be at a level where we’d be in the de­bates, and if that hap­pens, any­thing is pos­si­ble, mean­ing get­ting elected is pos­si­ble,” he said.

Mr. John­son makes the case that he and Mr. Weld occupy a space be­tween the more un­palat­able as­pects of the two ma­jor par­ties. That’s a shift from the place small­go­v­ern­ment lib­er­tar­i­ans have his­tor­i­cally oc­cu­pied some­where firmly on the con­ser­va­tive end of the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum.

“Bill Weld and I you could la­bel as kind of mod­er­ate Lib­er­tar­i­ans — kind of puts us smack in the mid­dle, try­ing or be­liev­ing that, re­ally, we’re the voice of the ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans,” Mr. John­son said.

But on free trade, one of the Lib­er­tar­ian Party’s chief is­sues, pri­mary vot­ers have been hes­i­tant to fully em­brace re­cent agree­ments, and both Mr. Trump and Mr. San­ders have made op­po­si­tion to free trade pacts key planks in their re­spec­tive cam­paigns.

Mr. John­son said free trade should be pur­sued, but that what politi­cians la­bel “free trade” is of­ten dressed-up crony cap­i­tal­ism and ends up giv­ing an ad­van­tage to peo­ple who have money.

“Reg­u­la­tion that might ac­tu­ally get passed that would level the play­ing field — yeah, you bet,” he said. “That is some­thing that gov­ern­ment can do. So not mak­ing prom­ises that more jobs are go­ing to get cre­ated, but mak­ing prom­ises that in of­fice you can level the play­ing field, and that ul­ti­mately that will lead to many, many jobs.”

Mr. Trump, mean­while, has dis­missed Mr. John­son as a “fringe” can­di­date. That’s a la­bel Mr. John­son em­braced — al­beit per­haps some­what tongue-in-cheek.

“Re­ally, a com­pletely ac­cu­rate por­trayal,” he said. “He was talk­ing about both Bill Weld and my­self — two Repub­li­can gov­er­nors serv­ing in heav­ily blue states, be­ing fis­cally con­ser­va­tive … yeah, we’re to­tally fringe. To­tally.”

Mr. John­son called Mr. Trump’s cam­paign rhetoric “in­cen­di­ary” and said even when he says some­thing some­what agree­able to lib­er­tar­i­ans, like ad­vo­cat­ing a non­in­ter­ven­tion­ist for­eign pol­icy, he’s li­able to just con­tra­dict him­self later.

“Killing the fam­i­lies of Mus­lim ter­ror­ists. Bring­ing back wa­ter­board­ing or worse, call­ing a judge in Cal­i­for­nia Mex­i­can — this is in­cen­di­ary stuff,” Mr. John­son said.

Tak­ing a page from Mr. San­ders, Mr. John­son also says he’s not call­ing out Mrs. Clin­ton for the pri­vate email server she used as sec­re­tary of state, and which is cur­rently the sub­ject of an FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

But he said peo­ple could ex­pect to see the gov­ern­ment grow and pay more taxes if she’s elected, and that she has been the ar­chi­tect of a lack­lus­ter U.S. for­eign pol­icy.

Mr. John­son also gave Mr. San­ders some praise for com­ing around on the is­sue of mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion, which Mr. John­son has ad­vo­cated for some time. While cam­paign­ing in Cal­i­for­nia re­cently, Mr. San­ders said he’d sup­port a bal­lot item on le­gal­iz­ing the drug.

“There’s not one politi­cian out­side of Bernie San­ders at the con­gres­sional, se­na­to­rial or gu­ber­na­to­rial level that has ad­vo­cated le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana other than my­self … and that’s a re­cent phe­nom­e­non for Bernie,” Mr. John­son said.

“To me, that’s just a dis­con­nect in a big, big, big way,” he said.

Mr. John­son said that, be­yond mar­i­juana, he’d sup­port de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing drug use in gen­eral.

“I’m not ad­vo­cat­ing the le­gal­iza­tion of any drug other than mar­i­juana, but I think this coun­try is go­ing to take a quan­tum leap in un­der­stand­ing drugs and drug abuse, and I think the next log­i­cal step, which I com­pletely sup­port, is de­crim­i­nal­iz­ing drug use,” he said. “And I would sup­port that — I would al­ways sup­port that.”

AS­SO­CIATED PRESS

Lib­er­tar­ian pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Gary John­son said that, other than Sen. Bernard San­ders, no politi­cian is ad­vo­cat­ing for pot le­gal­iza­tion.

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