Gaining visibility at the national level

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE — Former Gov. Gary Johnson is confounding national political leaders and pundits just as he did in New Mexico for a decade.

Since leaving office in 2002, Johnson evidently has had enough adventures climbing mountains, skiing and hang gliding to want to try another political adventure. This time, he’s behaving very much like a presidential candidate.

For several months, Johnson has been traveling the nation, attending political events, making speeches and doing interviews. Instead of forming an exploratory committee, he is the honorary chairman of Our America Initiative, a Web site that publicizes his views.

The group’s tax status is such that Johnson cannot declare his candidacy. That very likely is intentional. His campaign is extremely fluid right now. This allows him to duck the candidacy question while playing around with all his alternatives.

Johnson says he is running as a Republican but most of his Libertarian views are poison to current Republican philosophy. He says he doesn’t see it that way.

In a recent interview with Salon.com Johnson argues  that the GOP is a broader coalition than it is commonly portrayed. “I haven’t found the Republican Party to be exclusive as much as inclusive,” he says.

Johnson had better check with U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas about that. Rep. Paul is the leading libertarian voice in the nation. He wins reelection as a Republican every two years in Texas but when he ran for president two years ago, the GOP shut him out.

Paul raised more money than some other Republican candidates for the presidential nomination and he won more votes than Rudy Giuliani. But he was forced to hold his own alternative convention down the street from the Republican National Convention. Johnson spoke at Paul’s convention.

The problem both Rep. Paul and former Gov. Johnson have is that candidates can’t become president except under the banner of a major party but it just isn’t possible for either of them to win the GOP nomination because of their libertarian positions.

Johnson has been offered the nomination of the national Libertarian Party. If he were to accept it, he would be on the general election ballot and would fare better than he would in a GOP primary. But he’s not going to get enough votes as a minor party candidate to win the presidency.

That’s why Johnson ran for governor of New Mexico as a Republican. He admitted he had never been active in the Republican Party and that he was a card carrying member of Ross Perot’s Reform Party.

So he invested enough personal money to buy the TV time necessary to win the primary and general elections. But that won’t work in a presidential election.

The Libertarian Party is really Johnson’s only hope to gain any visibility at the national level. If Rep. Paul would give him help on the fundraising, Johnson could represent the party well. Johnson says he is for a little more government than pure Libertarian philosophy would dictate but Libertarians really aren’t into dictating.

Johnson is more pleasant than Paul. He is getting better all the time at interviews. At a Sean Hannity interview on Fox last weekend he handled the right wing criticisms very effectively.

He has been attending Tea Party events and says their views on the economy, spending and taxes are right down the line with his. It is too early to tell what sort of effect Tea Partiers will have on the political scene this year but Johnson seems to be making himself available just in case.

He says he’s available anywhere, any time. He’s already been to New Hampshire for a speech. He says except for exercise, eating and sleeping, all he’s doing now is trying to spark a new debate.  On his Web site, he calls it a revolution. That should interest the Tea Party crowd.

New Mexico pollster and political analyst Brian Sanderhoff says  if ever there was a time for someone like Gary Johnson, it’s now. Maybe he’s right.

E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com.