June 29, 2016

Libertarians wonder if Johnson can get over the hump

Andy Lyman

Gary Johnson at the Libertarian National Convention

Some key players in the Libertarian Party weighed in on why former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has remained relatively low in recent election polls.

Gary Johnson at the Libertarian National Convention

Andy Lyman

Gary Johnson at the Libertarian National Convention

In a recent MSNBC interview, Johnson pointed to polls that included Green Party nominee Jill Stein as one reason he hasn’t been able to break the much needed 15 percent to get into the general election presidential debates this fall alongside presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump.

Austin Petersen, who sought the Libertarian Party nomination but then backed Johnson, told NM Political Report that Johnson’s low numbers should be taken seriously, given there is less than five months until the general election.

“It’s definitely time to worry because the national election is in November and that’s going to sneak up on us,” Petersen said.

One of Johnson’s mistakes, Petersen said, was trying to appeal to Bernie Sanders’ supporters instead of Republicans who don’t agree with their party’s nominee.

“That in my mind was problematic because what I thought the real movement to tap into was the never-Trumpers who had no option,” Petersen said.

Austin Petersen

Andy Lyman

Austin Petersen

Peterson added that Johnson may need to take a page from Sanders’ book.

“If Gary Johnson really wants to get those Bern-outs he’s got to do what he can to try and label himself as a revolutionary in essence,” Petersen said of Johnson trying to appeal to left-leaning voters.

Libertarian National Committee chairman Nicholas Sarwark said the current numbers are not the problem and actually prove to be a positive for Johnson especially against Stein. Sarwark pointed out that Johnson is maintaining the same numbers as before he was officially a candidate.

“Now we’re seeing him at that 9,10,11 [percent] range even with the inclusion of a fourth candidate,” Sarwark said. “To me that shows that he’s actually strengthening.”

Sarwark suggested to NM Political Report that including Stein in polls against Johnson and keeping Johnson out of other polls completely is a way to save face by the polling companies.

“I don’t think people are adding Stein into the polls because they think she’s a legitimate threat,” Sarwark said. “I think more of them are adding Stein into the polls to kind of rationalize or justify, from their perspective, that Johnson isn’t serious.”

Former Libertarian candidate Darryl Perry was more optimistic about Johnson’s campaign than he was at the party’s national convention. Perry warned against going to mainstream with the Libertarian message and used an allegory of a smooth road leading to a cliff to make his point. In an email to NM Political Report, Perry said it’s still too soon to start worrying about Johnson’s numbers.

“The comments [from Johnson] made about winning were along the lines of ‘I have a shot at winning if I’m in the debates,’” Perry said. “It’s way too early to know if Gary will be in the debates, thus still way too early to even think about the general election outcome.”

Sarwark said in order to move up in the polls Johnson should focus on name recognition.

“The trick to moving up is having more people know who you are,” Sarwark said.

As far as strategy, Petersen said Johnson and his running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, need to be more aggressive in their campaign.

Gaining another five or six percent, Petersen said, “Requires a negative campaign, that requires an aggressive campaign, both of which Johnson and Weld have pretty much stated they are not interested in engaging in.”