July 30, 2018

Dunn out of Senate race, Johnson hints at taking his place

Andy Lyman

A candidate switch-up is likely in the works for the Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s run for the U.S. Senate. Libertarian Senate candidate Aubrey Dunn announced Monday that will exit the race and asked high-profile Libertarian Gary Johnson to take his place.

In a press release, Dunn said he wants to devote more time to his current role as State Land Commissioner. Now the question is whether Johnson, a former Republican governor and Libertarian presidential candidate, will take his place. If Johnson decides to run for Senate, it would create a considerable shake-up in the three-way race between Republican Mick Rich and Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich.

Dunn said that he fully endorses and personally encouraged Johnson to take his place.

“I have spoken with Governor Johnson, he is willing to consider serving as my replacement as the Libertarian nominee and I respectfully request that our Libertarian Party State Central Committee nominate him as the replacement candidate,” Dunn said.

Even though Dunn has asked Johnson to run, Johnson himself has had little, definitively, to say about taking on the role as candidate. Johnson did not return a call from NM Political Report, but his former presidential campaign manager Ron Nielson said Johnson is “contemplating” a run for Senate and “weighing it out” to determine if it seems like a winnable race. If Johnson determines there is a chance at winning in the next couple of weeks, Nielson said, the former two-term governor will decide to run.

Dunn, who left the Republican party to run for Senate as a Libertarian, said he can’t adequately perform his current job while also running for federal office.

“It is simply not possible to do that job like it needs to be done while campaigning for another office,” Dunn said.

Libertarians in New Mexico may be excited about one of their nationally recognized members to running for national office again, there are still a couple of things that need to happen before it’s official.

Can he win?

After winning 9 percent of the New Mexico votes for president in the 2016 election, Johnson told NM Political Report he was done running for office, choosing instead to take ski trips and bike across the country. Even as late as 2017, Johnson told The Washington Post he would never run again and called politics “toxic.” But, last week in an interview with Nielson, his former campaign manager who also runs a media website, Johnson hinted at running for office again.

If Johnson does decide to take Dunn’s place, the Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s central committee will need to approve his candidacy.

State Chair Chris Luchini said the party is planning to have a central committee meeting in August specifically to make a decision about Dunn’s replacement or whether to replace him at all.

Central committee member Paul Ryan McKenney said he couldn’t speak for anyone but himself, but had high hopes and praise for Johnson. Specifically, McKenney said, Johnson has a record as an elected official to stand behind.

“We can look at what Gary has actually done,” McKenney said.

Dubbed “Governor No,” Johnson himself has boasted that he holds the records for the most vetoes as governor. He was also instrumental in privatizing state prisons and advocated  for a school voucher program. He was also an early advocate of marijuana legalization.

While Johnson has his fair share of critics in the national Libertarian Party, in New Mexico he may have an advantage in name recognition–and fundraising.

War chest

Johnson would start out with a financial disadvantage over his two opponents, if he chooses to run. Johnson’s presidential campaign only has about $2,000 at his disposal. Heinrich has about $4 million in campaign funds and Republican candidate Mick Rich has almost $200,000 at the ready. But, Johnson was able to raise about $12 million during his run for president and has national name.

A Johnson candidacy could also create a fairly competitive three-way race in terms of policy and political beliefs. Johnson, who has previously called himself “fiscally conservative and socially liberal,” ran for president on a platform of a simplified immigration process, pro-marijuana legalization and against any assault weapon bans.

Local name recognition could also become a factor if Johnson decides to run. In the 2016 presidential election, Johnson garnered public support from former Republican state Senator Lisa Torraco and former Republican politician and Johnson’s former Department of Public Safety Secretary Darren White.

Johnson’s success in New Mexico also played a key role in the state Libertarian party obtaining major party status, allowing easier ballot access to their candidates.

Still, Johnson made high profile gaffes, like his now infamous “Aleppo moment” and his trouble naming a foreign leader in an interview may find their way into TV ads from his opponents.

But, Dunn thinks Johnson is the best option to get a Libertarian from New Mexico into the Senate.

“New Mexicans deserve a choice in 2018 of a candidate who can not only win this

race, but put New Mexico and America first before party politics as an independent voice in the United States Senate,” Dunn said. “It is time for Governor Johnson to again step up to lead this state and this nation to restore Liberty.”