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EDITORIAL: Fight for the Tea Party nod

Ex-governor takes on Ron Paul for libertarian GOP support

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Republican Party voters are desperately seeking a principled conservative who can win back the White House. The Nov. 6, 2012, election can't come soon enough for those who want to put an end to Obamacare, trillion-dollar spending sprees and regulatory excess. On Thursday, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson announced he will run for the GOP nod in the currently wide-open contest for the nomination. Mr. Johnson's greatest handicap appears to be that nobody knows who he is.

The same, of course, was once said about a governor from Arkansas who rose from near total obscurity to become president. In the first presidential race where the Tea Party movement could play a significant role, Mr. Johnson's track record of big wins in a swing state is certainly appealing. New Mexico voters narrowly preferred Al Gore in 2000 and President Obama in 2008. In 1994, Mr. Johnson shellacked the incumbent Democratic governor by 10 points. Four years later, he earned a second term by the same margin. That's proof the public can get behind a chief executive who vetoes every other bill that lands on his desk in order to cut spending and hold firm to constitutional principles.

In an ideal world, Mr. Johnson would replace IRS rules with a Fair Tax or flat tax; he'd dump the Departments of Education and Housing and Urban Development and he'd stop paying farmers not to farm. It sounds a lot like the Tea Party's other favorite constitutional conservative, Rep. Ron Paul, who on Tuesday announced the formation of his exploratory committee. Dr. Paul has a proven ability to raise money and inspire legions of enthusiastic volunteers, but that failed to translate into primary victories last cycle.

The obstetrician from Texas may find himself with more social conservative support considering his unwavering position that life begins at conception. Mr. Johnson sees the issue differently. "I support a woman's right to choose up until viability of the fetus," he wrote Monday during a question-and-answer session on Twitter. "I signed a bill in NM banning late-term abortions."

Mr. Johnson also endorses civil unions and wants to see marijuana legalized. It remains to be seen how well that goes over in a GOP primary. What is certain is that having at least two very outspoken, committed libertarian-leaning conservatives will enliven debates that in the past rarely departed from the usual political platitudes. With a field that could expand beyond a dozen candidates once again, the public is going to need all the spark it can get.

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