CLEVELAND | Gary Johnson didn’t want to be in Cleveland. He didn’t want a quick media hit to turn into a minor mob scene. And he certainly didn’t want to lose his phone.
But despite some minor snafus and less than half a million dollars in the bank, the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee says he plans to keep doing his thing going forward, touting a recent single-day “money comet” haul of $100,000 and calling developments at the GOP convention a “sad state of affairs.”
“I don’t think anything,” Mr. Johnson said when asked what needs to happen to achieve the 15-percent polling threshold needed to qualify for the presidential debates. “You’ve witnessed that in the last seven weeks, it’s doubled.”
“I have to believe,” he said, “there’s no reason for it to stop.”
Mr. Johnson has gotten as high as 13 percent in recent three-way polling against Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. He’s at about 8 percent in the latest Real Clear Politics average in a four-way match-up that includes Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve been approached rapid-fire by people with Trump stickers saying they were going to support me,” he said. “Which has been a real surprise.”
He said the anti-Clinton focus of the Republicans’ convention and members of the GOP still unsatisfied with Mr. Trump could be enough to swing supporters his way.
“Really, it’s a sad state of affairs. It’s not the Republican Party that I certainly joined up for. I wouldn’t be wanting to register as a Republican right now,” said Mr. Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico.
“I think that there’s not excitement being generated here but apprehension being generated here that is going to give a lot of committed Trump supporters hesitation,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Mr. Johnson stressed, though, that he came to Cleveland because of overwhelming demand from media and that he didn’t want to attract attention.
“I didn’t want to come here,” he said.
Indeed, in June he told The Washington Times he was skipping both conventions, saying his 2012 bid as the Libertarian nominee — after dropping out of the GOP race — taught him the conventions were a wasteland.
But he said reporters urged him to come to Cleveland so they could interview him on the outskirts of the convention.
He was dismayed by what he described as a “carnival” that happened outside of Erie Island Coffee on Fourth Street — one of the major congregating areas for the public at the convention — as he was conducting a separate interview and members of the public were grabbed to ask him questions.
Others quickly surrounded him in front of the shop, and some followed him into a neighboring restaurant, where he still gamely greeted supporters and posed for pictures. In the middle of all that — in what might be the quintessential American nightmare for a libertarian concerned with privacy — he discovered he lost his phone, which he later recovered.
Political pundits wonder from whom Mr. Johnson is drawing his support — Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton. Traditionally, Libertarians have been seen to eat into the GOP’s base, but polling suggests this year that Mr. Johnson is drawing evenly from the two major-party candidates.
Despite being diametrically opposed with Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders on issues like health care and trade, he also said if Sanders supporters from within the Democratic Party are truly interested in “equal opportunity,” rather than income equality, he also could win support from the other progressive end of the political spectrum.
“I’m believing that perhaps it’s equal opportunity and not income inequality,” he said. “Equal opportunity speaking to crony capitalism, that the system is for sale and it’s being sold.”
Mr. Johnson told The Washington Times last month he was aiming to raise “tens of millions” of dollars for his bid. But he raised only about $664,000 in June and had about $460,000 on hand at the start of July.
He said things picked up after that — or too late to show up in the most recent campaign finance filing.
“It’s been since then that it’s been so much more than that,” he said. “We raised a hundred thousand dollars in one day, and that was free. That’s what we just put out there.”
Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee and an outspoken critic of Mr. Trump, has said recently that he might be open to supporting Mr. Johnson. Mr. Romney in particular had expressed a fondness for fellow former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who is Mr. Johnson’s running mate.
But Mr. Johnson said he’s not actively seeking support from such GOP holdouts like Mr. Romney and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
“I just think reaching out is not as effective as keeping after it and if that’s something that they want to do ultimately, that ends up being their decision and I have never been in the push camp. I don’t think it’s effective,” he said.