Gary Johnson

Johnson/Weld Campaign Manager Ron Nielson Talks Campaign Strategy, Activist Complaints

Campaign aiming for 15 percent in national polls while also targeting specific states; ready to begin rallying; and asking patience from would-be volunteers.


"The immediate goal is still to get 15 percent [in the polls] and then beyond," says Ron Nielson, campaign manager for the Gary Johnson/William Weld Libertarian Party presidential campaign, in a telephone interview yesterday (before the CNN Town Hall) about current campaign strategy and tactics. (The 15 percent in five national polls is key to getting in the presidential debates, which Johnson has always said is key to success.)

The key to that is going to continue to be what it has been in the two months since the team won the L.P. nomination: earned media, in the campaigners' parlance, which means: getting on TV and in the papers and news sites.

Ron Nielson Facebook

However, the campaign is also beginning to roll out rallies as a tactic, started with one in Reno on Friday and then Salt Lake City on Saturday, with others planned soon in other targeted states. "The rallies will involve coalitions of groups, getting support from other organizations interested in helping," he says. "That is very important to us."

Nielson says they are getting in more polls, which he says is "a direct result of Gary showing well in the polls" he's already in. "Anyone who wants to have a scientific poll really needs to include Johnson and Weld," he says, noting their occasional 10 percents and above in polls they are included in.

The campaign will continue to use social networking as a prime communication strategy to supporters and likely supporters, though he says they are going to be rolling out a national radio buy as well. (Previous internet campaign videos, Nielson says, have all spread organically, not through paid placement.) The campaign now has 42 paid staff, Nielson says, around 35 fulltime volunteers "and probably hundreds if not thousands" of part-time volunteers.

Most of them are concentrated in running ground game out of state offices. In an interview earlier this week with Deseret News, Nielson listed the states where they think they can have the most impact as:

On the Democratic side, that means Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, with Oregon, Minnesota and Iowa as more possibilities. On the Republican side, it's Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and both Dakotas.

While some have wondered how a "concentrate on certain winnable states" strategy matches with the immediate-term need for 15 percent in polls nationally, Nielson says they are pursuing both goals simultaneously.

I ran a couple of observations/theories I or people in my communications network had about how the candidates themselves seem to be strategizing based on their own words and actions: that they are either deliberately trying to appeal to disaffected Democrats far more than Republicans, and/or that they mostly want to just sell themselves as non-ideological decent experienced successful politicians without the overwhelming personal negatives of Clinton and Trump.

Nielson didn't agree with either idea, believing that his candidates are in different ways trying to "pull from Clinton supporters, and in other parts trying to pull from Trump, but the truth is there is a big section of independents, a lot of voters forming allegiances to neither Clinton nor Trump" who he thinks his guys can capture.

As to the second point, while he mentions "we had a little fun with the slogan 'Make America Sane Again,'" he thinks it's less about the flaws of their competitors as "pushing the message that these two governors were both successful, developed great leadership skills, were respected by the people who elected them and liked" and those qualities might "provide some security to voters."

On the fundraising tip, although William Weld said last night on CNN's Libertarian Town Hall that he was having million-dollar days working the phones for the campaign, Nielson only spoke proudly of a $360,000 haul over just the two days prior to our conversation. A "money comet" promotion they did last month pulled in around a quarter million.

I asked Nielson about a rather wide variety of complaints I'd heard directly from activists and which can be found all over Reddit about disappointment over a lack of a working store for merch on the website and lack of response to those who signed up on the site as volunteers, among other complaints.

"We launched a new store tonight," Nielson says, hoping any problems with ability to obtain campaign swag will fade moving forward.

"As far as people contacting the campaign to volunteer, that is wonderful and we thank them for doing it," Nielson says. "But I ask that they be patient. We weren't expecting quite the magnitude of support, it's been kind of overwhelming and we have been having a tough time responding to every person. But we don't want people to go away, and we hope they keep coming and we will find places and things for everyone to do." He says they and volunteers have been and will continue to organize phone banks to promote Johnson/Weld.

Nielson does anticipate as fundraising proceeds that there will be some "paid media, which will be different for the Libertarian Party, and we'll see how that affects the support base. When doing advertising, we will stand by our opinion that a majority of Americans support the same ideological orientation of Team Gov."