He still doesn’t get much attention from the mainstream media, but Libertarian presidential candidate Gary E. Johnson could be the key to who wins the White House on Tuesday — especially if he takes votes away from Barack Obama or Mitt Romney in Ohio or Colorado.
Who that ultimately helps or hurts in the crucial swing state remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: Mr. Johnson, who describes himself as “more liberal than Obama on civil liberties and more conservative than Romney on dollars and cents,” believes he’ll be a factor.
“Whichever candidate I make lose, that would be terrific because that would open a debate and a discussion over the two parties,” he told reporters recently. “What really is the difference between the two? It’s not much. It’s really not much at all.”
Tuesday’s results, good or bad, also pose questions about the future of the self-branded “minimum government, maximum freedom” Libertarian Party.
Mr. Johnson officially joined only last year — he was a Republican when he governed New Mexico for two terms from 1995 to 2003. But to hear him tell it, the party that began as a small group of activists in Colorado in 1971 is now closer to the cusp of serious national significance than ever before.
“The evolution of the Libertarian Party is hopefully going to be one of being an annoyance of this election — a spoiler — to then going on to being a player in the future,” he told The Washington Times.
The Libertarians are hoping for the kind of impact that third-party candidate Ralph Nader had in 2000, when he and the Green Party siphoned enough votes to cost Al Gore the state of Florida — leading, ultimately, to the Democrat losing the election to George W. Bush.
Mr. Johnson is on the ballot in 48 states. While CNN’s poll stopped short of measuring whose votes he might take in Ohio, the Libertarian is pretty sure he’ll take votes from both candidates, and he predicted he could affect the race’s outcome in five battleground states.
“In New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada, I take more votes away from Obama,” he said. “In North Carolina and Michigan, I take more votes away from Romney.”
Significant chunks of voters in those states are either disgusted by the two major-party candidates, or simply see themselves aligned with Mr. Johnson, who has spent roughly $2 million nationally compared to the estimated $1 billion spent by each of the two major parties.
On issues, the former governor is sometimes marginalized as the “legalize marijuana” candidate.
But his policy positions range as deep and wide as those of Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican who made headlines during the primaries as the only Republican presidential candidate with a truly libertarian bent.
The No. 1 issue facing America, Mr. Johnson said, is unsustainable government spending. Democrats and Republicans, Mr. Johnson says, go through the motions of appearing to be concerned about runaway federal spending. But when it comes to solving the problem, he says both major parties are in denial.
“Either party gets elected and we’re going to see that the police state will continue to grow, we’re going to find ourselves in a continued state of war, military interventions are not going to cease and spending will continue to be unsustainable, resulting at some point, I think sooner than later, in a monetary collapse.”