SANTA FE, N.M. — Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson is counting on voter disgust at Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to give him the best showing in November of any third-party candidate since billionaire Ross Perot in 1992. Things to know about the former New Mexico governor:
Johnson has managed to anger both parties because they fear he’ll peel off critical voters. Democrats worry that his appeal to young voters will hurt them in some tight battleground states. In other states, he seems to be taking from Trump’s column, frustrating the GOP nominee’s backers. By picking another former Republican governor as his running mate, Massachusetts’ Bill Weld, Johnson heightened his visibility. The ticket has received more donations than prior Libertarian ones, but Johnson fell short of cracking the 15 percent polling threshold to qualify for a seat at the presidential debates.
Johnson, 63, mixes social liberalism with a far stricter fiscal conservatism than the Republican nominee embraces. He Libertarian calls for raising the eligibility age for Social Security, eliminating the federal departments of Commerce, Education, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development, and implementing a flat tax. He became known for calling for legalization of marijuana in the late 1990s, long before states like Colorado permitted recreational use of the drug. Johnson also supports gay marriage, backs abortion rights and supports increased immigration into the U.S., as well as free trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Johnson was born into a middle-class family in North Dakota and moved to New Mexico when he was 13. He was still a student at the University of New Mexico when he founded a construction company, and eventually made millions. Johnson was a little-known outsider when he entered a four-way Republican governor’s primary in 1994. He eked out a narrow win and went on to defeat the Democratic incumbent.
Johnson vetoed more than 700 bills as governor, a record. He focused on fiscal conservatism and limiting government, striking down even the smallest fee increases. But it was his call for the legalization of marijuana soon after his 1998 re-election that got him noticed far outside his state. He pushed for legalizing the drug after leaving office and served as chief executive officer of a marijuana branding firm.
MOMENT TO REMEMBER
Just as voter disgust with the major party candidates was peaking, Johnson went on a cable news show to get his message out. One interviewer asked him what he’d do about Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, now under Russian bombardment in the midst of that country’s civil war. “What is Aleppo?” Johnson asked, sparking widespread mockery on social media.
The candidate apologized but then, weeks later, was asked to name a foreign leader he admired. Johnson paused and said he was having an “Aleppo moment” and couldn’t think of one. After another round of mockery, the governor didn’t apologize. Instead, he said he still couldn’t think of an overseas leader he looked up to and contended that his skepticism about U.S. military involvement overseas should outweigh any geographic slip-ups.
Johnson has never been a typical politician. He was famous for oddball behavior as governor. Asked at a press conference whether he’d sign the budget the Legislature produced, he took out a toy pig and whirled it around his head as his answer — yes, he’ll sign it when pigs can fly. (Indeed, Johnson vetoed the entire budget.) When he misspoke at another press conference, he apologized by taking off a shoe and sticking it in his mouth.
An obsessive athlete, Johnson is a triathlete, extreme marathoner, skier and mountain climber. He’s summited the highest peaks on the seven continents and vows to ski 120 days in 2017 if he’s not elected president.