Tampa – If Gary Johnson is going to come close to cracking single digits in November's presidential election the Libertarian Party nominee will need the backing of Ron Paul supporters like Sean Melancon, who watched Johnson speak yesterday afternoon at the Ron Paul Festival.
"I made the shift to Gary Johnson because Mitt Romney is way down on my list of people I'd want in charge of this country," said Melancon, 20, shortly after Johnson finished speaking before several hundred people.
"You know, Gary wants to keep Guantanamo open, but he's with Paul on like 98% of same stuff. But in the end, though, it doesn't really matter because the establishment will be elected, Obama or Romney. I would guess [a] majority of the people here are here to support Gary Johnson and libertarianism and liberty," he said.
Melancon's friend, Blake Magnus, is a fan of Paul too, and is backing Johnson in the general election. "Gary Johnson is the only option on the ballot who will make our voice heard on the issues we really care about," said Magnus, 20.
Magnus, a resident of South Carolina who joined the Paul movement when he was just 15 years old in 2008, thinks Paul supporters will get behind Johnson because of his foreign policy positions and his support for ending the Federal Reserve.
During his speech Johnson amplified the portion of his typical stump speech that focuses on the Federal Reserve while including several minutes on his relationship with Paul.
"I want you all to know that I am a Dr. Paul fan," Johnson said, pausing to allow for loud applauses and cheers.
"Ron Paul asked me for my endorsement in 2008 and I readily gave that endorsement. When I dropped out of the Republican primary I asked everyone who was going to vote for me to vote for Ron Paul. When asked in the last debate that I got to appear in who I would pair up with for a vice presidential candidate I said Ron Paul," he said, again, drawing overwhelming cheers from the crowd.
Then it got slightly awkward.
"I want to make this really clear: If I thought Ron Paul was going to get the nomination I would have not done this and I would have let him get the nomination and I would be along with you supporting Dr. Paul right now," he said, the crowd reacting slowly, but then eventually cheering and whistling as if was coaxed out of them.
The attitude among many of those present at Paul Fest was that there is still a very tiny possibility that Paul could win the nomination this week in Tampa. This is very much a Paul-first, Johnson-second crowd.
"I'll probably vote for him as long Paul isn't a candidate. Until it's over I don't plan on giving up on it," said Colin Denney, 26, of Dallas, Texas.
Denney noted that Johnson agreed with Paul "eighty-five percent of the time" but he, like many of the people I talked to, mentioned Johnson's support for keeping the offshore detention center in Guantanamo Bay open.
When asked about this, Johnson said that he misspoke when he first made these comments.
"What I should have said was, we should close down Guantanamo for the practices of torture and detainment without being charged," he said, taking a breaking from signing autographs for a big crowd.
"Guantanamo does fill a gap that we actually need: a place to house enemy combatants offshore. But, we need to stop the practice of torture, stop the detainment without charge," he said.
After his speech I talked with Johnson about his relationship with Paul and how he was involved in the 2008 Paul presidential campaign. Here's a brief clip: