TAMPA—Gary Johnson is serene. Sitting down to a lunch of grilled shrimp and tomato salad at a Latin restaurant in historic Ybor City, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee says his less-government philosophy is gradually spreading across the country and that many pundits and political strategists will be surprised at his showing on election day.
He didn't make any predictions on exactly how well he will do. But he expressed confidence that his campaign will "exceed expectations," which could mean that anything upward of 1 or 2 per cent could be considered a successful outcome. The current Rasmussen Reports poll gives President Obama 48 per cent, Republican challenger Mitt Romney 48 per cent, and Johnson 1 per cent. But Johnson says simply being listed by name in the poll is progress.
In any case, he says, a leader needs to be optimistic. "The majority of Americans in this country are fiscally responsible and socially accepting," which is his own political philosophy, Johnson explains.
One annoyance for the soft-spoken Johnson is the failure of organizers to include him in any of the three presidential debates scheduled for October. The organizers say he will be included only if he reaches 15 per cent in the national polls, and he lags far behind. He has raised about $2 million, which is considered a low number.
Johnson is a rarity in politics—a leader who ran as a Republican but governed as a libertarian for two terms as governor of New Mexico. Johnson became known for vetoing many bills for programs that he felt cost too much and represented too much government intrusion into society.
As the Libertarian Party nominee, Johnson is taking positions similar in some cases to those adopted by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who ran unsuccessfully this year as a libertarian for the GOP presidential nomination. "The Paul campaign is coming to an end," Johnson told me Sunday. "That's really key, getting that support."
But Paul, who has been the Libertarian Party's nominee in the past, hasn't announced his support for either Romney, his fellow Republican who will be formally nominated in Tampa this week, or Johnson, his fellow libertarian.
At the end of our meal, the waitress politely interrupted our interview and said she recognized Johnson and was a fan. They shook hands and Johnson beamed. He was exceeding expectations in Ybor City, and he took it as a good sign.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," on usnews.com and is the author of "The Presidency" column for U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.