He has a very long way to go, but Gary Johnson is trying to pick up where Ron Paul left off.
Johnson is the Libertarian Party nominee for president, a perch that Paul has used in the past to run for the White House. But this year, Paul is still pursuing his long-shot bid for the Republican presidential nomination and it is Johnson who wants to emerge as the main alternative to the major parties.
Normally, there would be little reason to think that a Libertarian candidate would make much difference. But 2012 could be different because Paul has shown that some libertarian ideas have unusual power this year, such as an emphasis on individual liberty and on massive reductions in federal power and spending.
And Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, is starting to make his move to capitalize on what he sees as a promising environment. He is running a new ad on the Internet that bills him as the peace candidate because of his long-time opposition to the Iraq war and other U.S. military involvements abroad. This parallels Ron Paul's position.
And in a fund-raising appeal on the Internet, Johnson's senior adviser Ron Nielson recalls how Johnson reached the summit of Mount Everest on May 30, 2003, and Nielson uses the upcoming anniversary of that climb as a deadline for contributions. "Now, in 2012, Governor Johnson is on another, even greater, climb," Nielson says. "A climb to restore Liberty as the bedrock governing principle of this great nation. And he would be the first to tell you that this year's climb is far, far more important than the one he made 9 years ago."
Nielson adds: "We know there are millions of Americans who see that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will only offer more of the same big government, less liberty and interventionist policies that are driving us off a cliff."
Johnson's campaign has set a goal of raising $29,035 by May 30, matching the 29.035-foot height of Mount Everest. It's a relatively tiny amount, but Johnson supporters hope it will lead to bigger things.
He, in fact, is starting to register in some state polls as the Libertarian nominee. In Wisconsin, he gets support from 6 per cent of voters in the latest Reason-Rupe survey, while Obama is backed by 46 per cent and Romney 36 per cent. Public Policy Polling finds that Johnson garners 9 per cent in Arizona. If this trend continues, Johnson could conceivably make a difference in some states by pulling libertarian-conservative support away from Romney and making it harder for Romney to defeat Obama.
Johnson, who ran briefly for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, got a very small boost this week when comedian/magician Penn Jillette endorsed him during an appearance on Fox News.
But other factors will have far more impact on Johnson's viability, such as whether he can raise enough money to compete and whether he is included in presidential debates this fall.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" at usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News digital weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook and Twitter.