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On April 21, Gary Johnson stood in front of the New Hampshire State House in Concord and announced his candidacy for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.
Afterwards, the online newspaper “Slate” noted, “Only 14 percent of Republicans have the faintest idea of who he is.”
Still later that evening, ABC News summed up the former New Mexico governor’s quest as, at best, “a long-shot bid for the White House.”
Johnson would probably agree with that assessment, but he also remembers how virtually every political soothsayer in his own home state was saying much the same thing in 1994 after he announced his candidacy for the GOP gubernatorial nomination that year.
Yet, doubters notwithstanding, when the first Tuesday of November 1994 rolled around, Johnson convincingly defeated New Mexico’s longest serving governor, Bruce King, who was one of those rare political figures to enjoy the affection of even his severest critics. Four years later,
Gary Johnson became the first New Mexico governor to be reelected to a second consecutive four year term.
Winning the GOP presidential nomination, let alone the presidency, is something else altogether. The race for the Republican nomination is still an amorphous affair with as many giddy ups and downs as there are presumed contenders, few of whom actually acknowledged they’re going for it.
There are old party warhorses like Newt Gingrich, the corpulent ex-house speaker; political entertainers like Sarah Palin; a billionaire businessman cum reality TV celebrity whose wild mantle of pale hair runs in reverse, Donald Trump; and, in addition to Johnson, at least three other former governors: Mitt Romney (Massachusetts), Mike Huckabee (Arkansas) and Tim Pawlenty (Minnesota).
Then there’s Rep. Ron Paul, the self-proclaimed Republican libertarian who, having twice before sought his party’s nomination, announced last week that he is forming an “exploratory committee” preliminary to another go at it.
Paul is the candidate to whom Johnson is most frequently compared. Paul also has a large, almost cult-like following among that ardent bloc of Republican voters for whom government is at best, a necessary evil.
It is with this slice of the GOP electorate that Johnson is expected to have greatest appeal. What’s more, unlike Paul who would have government ban abortions altogether, Johnson has a record of supporting a woman’s right to choose, which is perhaps the more authentic libertarian posture.
After all, if government should stay off our backs and out of our pocketbooks, as libertarians contend, how can one possibly justify allowing government into a woman’s womb? Johnson has also staked other claims that should endear him to some bona fide libertarians in the GOP’s ranks. In a recent interview, for instance, the former governor indicated he could support some kind of civil unions for same sex couples.
But abortion and same sex civil unions is Johnson’s dogged determination to get government out of the business of enforcing basically unenforceable drug laws, particularly those targeting the use and users of marijuana.
Over the years Johnson has alternately talked about “decriminalizing” and/or “legalizing” marijuana use, and when he first advanced the idea in his second term as governor, it nigh drove many mainline New Mexico Republicans off the cliff.
One member of his cabinet became so agitated he noisily resigned because his governor even advanced the idea.
But if there are real and realistic libertarians in that fermenting coalition of the sundry right-leaning pods that constitute today’s Republican Party, Johnson’s idea of cutting our losses by getting government out of prosecuting a winless war on marijuana might actually find supporters.
On the other hand, few are betting that the GOP’s libertarian faction can put Johnson in the White House.
© New Mexico
News Services 2011