Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson could draw just enough support in a handful of swing states to throw the election to President Barack Obama, Republican strategists fear. GOP concerns are likely to intensify as Johnson begins a college tour to court young people next week.
A new CNN/ORC poll finds that Johnson isn't generating much support nationally—about 3 percent among likely voters—but he could make the difference in a close race. Various state polls show that Johnson is getting 7 percent in Colorado, New Hampshire, and his home state of New Mexico.
Johnson, in a recent interview, told U.S. News that he doesn't see himself as a spoiler and would draw from both Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But Republican strategists are nervous about Johnson pulling more votes from Romney. They note that Democratic nominee Al Gore would have won the presidency in 2000 if consumer advocate Ralph Nader had not drawn thousands of votes away from him in Florida, costing him the state and ultimately the White House.
Johnson is making a play for supporters of Republican Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian and the last serious candidate in the GOP nominating race against Romney. To that end, one of Johnson's major goals is to court young people, and he plans a three-week college tour that will include 15 schools in Pennsylvania, New York, New Hampshire, Illinois, North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, California, Washington State, Arizona, Nevada, Lousiaina, Ohio and New Mexico.
"Along the campaign trail," Johnson noted in a statement Tuesday, "I've been thrilled to find tremendous support from people in their 20's who are embracing liberty like never before, thanks in large part to the historic influence of Rep. Ron Paul."
He says he would do better in national polls if he were included in more of them, which would generate publicity. And he says it's fundamentally unfair to exclude him from the presidential debates next month, which is currently the plan of the nonpartisan commission that is sponsoring the events.
Johnson, the former two-term GOP governor of New Mexico, ran briefly for the Republican presidential nomination this year, but dropped out. He told me that his philosophy can be summed up simply—he is "pro-choice" on just about everything. He also wants to balance the budget next year by cutting $1.4 trillion, and favors pulling U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries.
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 in the U.S News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.