Gary Johnson

Path Cleared for Still-Undecided Gary Johnson's Potentially Historic Senate Bid

Aubrey Dunn, the highest-ranking Libertarian elected official in the country, drops out of the New Mexico Senate race to make way for a two-time governor/presidential candidate who five months ago said he was "done with elected political office."

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It's happening! ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, the first-ever Libertarian to hold statewide office in a position determined by partisan election, has officially announced his anticipated withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race in New Mexico, clearing the path for two-time former governor and presidential third-place finisher Gary Johnson.

"He seems sincerely grateful that I'm offering him this opportunity. I believe he'll accept it," Dunn tells Reason. "With Gary taking this race over, I think this is the best thing that could happen to the Libertarian Party of New Mexico. I think that it's going to cause an unbelievable shift in the way that people look at the Libertarian Party."

Johnson, who received 9.3 percent and 3.6 percent of the presidential vote in New Mexico in 2016 and 2012, respectively (both results constituting 50-state highs, tripling his nationwide percentages), is still just "strongly considering" a run, even with the general election only three months away.

"He's not going into the race unless he thinks he can win," two-time Johnson campaign manager Ron Nielson has been telling reporters. (A year ago, Nielson's line was that there's "no doubt that Gary would be a fantastic senator. He would do an amazing job and be great at that task.")

Until very recently, Johnson was adamant about never running for office again after the miserable last two months of the 2016 presidential campaign, during which he was battered by negative advertising from Democratic billionaire Tom Steyer, hobbled by his own serial verbal gaffes, and blindsided by Hillary Clinton–burnishing statements from his own running mate.

When I asked the L.P. presidential candidate on Election Day 2016 whether we'd ever see a Johnson-for-Senate campaign, his answer was an emphatic and repeated "No!" When Nick Gillespie asked him just five months ago whether he was considering getting back into the political fray, the conversation went like this:

Johnson: No. No.

Gillespie: Absolutely not?

Johnson: No. I'm done. I'm done with elected political office.

So what changed? Polling. In late June, amid the New Mexico L.P. bungling its way through getting candidates qualified for the November election despite the party's freshly minted ballot access, Dunn, who had switched from Republican to Libertarian in January and announced his Senate bid 10 days later, decided to compare his name with Johnson's in a three-way poll against Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich and Republican nominee Mick Rich.

"His poll numbers were three to four times better than what mine were," Dunn recalled. "He was in the high twenties, and I was in the sevens….It was pretty evident that if Gary were to take on this opportunity…he has a real chance to win."

Dunn's pollster was none other than Ron Nielson. One thing led to another—including this awkward video interview Nielson conducted with his old pal two weeks later at FreedomFest—and now the L.P. has arguably its most promising senatorial candidate in its 47-year history.

But that doesn't mean it will be easy, even if Johnson were as enthusiastic about campaigning as he is about participating in absurdly strenuous cycling competitions. The Senate race in this solidly blue state had been universally forecast until now as "Safe D." Registered Democrats in New Mexico outnumber Republicans, unaffiliateds and Libertarians by a ratio of 46 to 28 to 24 to 1. Combine that with anti–Donald Trump animus in a midterm year, and the path looks rockier than the Continental Divide.

Unless, that is, the Republican drops out.

Mick Rich, an entrepreneur turned political novice described by Santa Few New Mexican columnist Milan Simonich as a "tomato can" (Simonich argued that the GOP instead "should have sweet-talked former Gov. Gary Johnson into leaving the Siberia of the Libertarian Party to become a Republican again"), was already in pretty miserable shape before the Johnson chatter began. As of mid-May, Rich trailed Heinrich in available campaign funds, $166,000 to $3.993 million, with Dunn limping along at $7,000. A Johnson entry, speculated NM Politico's Dax Contreras Sunday, would make it "practically impossible for Mick Rich to pull off an upset."

The Rich campaign as of Sunday evening had not been quoted on the record about the Libertarian Party intrigue. (I've got a phone call in.) The New Mexican has reported without further detail that "Rich's campaign said the Albuquerque contractor is not dropping out."

Dunn for one is bullish on Johnson's chances even in a three-way race. "I think he has an opportunity to win whether the Republican stays in or out," he said. "He wins either way….One thing with Gary in the race—it's going to dry up any of the Republicans' ability to raise any funds."

There is some softness to the incumbent's obvious advantages. Heinrich, then a congressman, won his first Senate race by just six percentage points in 2012, a year Barack Obama won the state by 10. He has not exactly been cutting a broad swath since—a full 25 percent of New Mexico voters have no opinion of their junior senator, according to Morning Consult's latest data, and among the rest he has a modest 43 percent–32 percent favorable-unfavorable advantage.

Mmmmm…numbers. ||| Smart Politics
Smart Politics

A Johnson win, however far-fetched, would reshape the long-term trajectory of the Libertarian Party, and perhaps some short-term fortunes on Capitol Hill as well. Republicans now essentially control the Senate 51-49 (two of the Senators who caucus with Democrats are independents), and though there have been some indications that 2018 will be a "wave" election for Team Blue, the Senate math is brutal: As Wikipedia succinctly states, "Democrats are defending ten seats in states won by Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, while Republicans are only defending one seat in a state won by Hillary Clinton in 2016."

Though state polling data of even contested Senate races can be shockingly sparse, and polls for the World's Greatest Deliberative Body are more error-prone than presidential surveys, the very preliminary consensus among forecasters is that Democrats have maybe a one in three chance of wresting control back from Republicans. Replace safe-D Heinrich with Libertarian Johnson, and those odds take a serious tumble.

If Democrats were to take a 50-49-1 post-election advantage, they'd still need to woo the Libertarian on party-line votes in order to avoid a tiebreaker from Vice President Mike Pence. Given that Johnson leans closer to Trump than Sen. Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) on regulation, domestic taxes, and the more dovish aspects of the administration's foreign policy, that swing vote would no doubt prove to be an irritant, despite Johnson's more copacetic views on immigration, criminal justice, and social issues.

For the L.P., having a first elected federal official would be a watershed event, replacing overnight nearly five decades of conjecture with the concrete. Elected Libertarians such as Nebraska State Sen. Laura Ebke (a party-switcher) and Calimesa Mayor and Riverside County Board of Supervisors candidate Jeff Hewitt (technically a nonpartisan, though his affiliation is nobody's secret) are already demonstrating that Libertarians as legislative swing voters can accomplish real policy victories on the state and local level. A federal Leviathan run by a mercantilist who is bringing back the bad old days of $1 trillion annual deficits is more than ripe for libertarian-flavored reform.

Until now, the best performance among the more than 330 Libertarian Senate candidates since 1976 has been Alaska's Joe Miller, who finished second in a four-way race with 29 percent of the vote in 2016. Miller, a former Tea Party Republican, endorsed Donald Trump instead of Gary Johnson that year; also, Libertarian vice-presidential nominee Bill Weld endorsed Miller's victorious opponent, incumbent Lisa Murkowski.

The next-best L.P. Senate performances, according to a very useful Smart Politics article and chart by Eric Ostermeier, were Michael Cloud's 18.4 percent in Massachusetts (2002), Steve Osborn's 12.6 percent in Indiana (2006), and Carla Howell's 11.9 percent in Massachusetts (2000). No other Libertarian has cracked double digits.

But breaking the previous L.P. record for a Senate race while still finishing second would represent a net loss in the party's number of elected officials. That's because Aubrey Dunn will no longer be state land commissioner of New Mexico in 2019, and the chances of L.P. nominee Michael Lucero beating Republican Patrick Lyons for the office are remote indeed. "We polled [the race] a year ago," says Dunn, who has been engaged in a series of political skirmishes with the GOP, "and I didn't poll well."

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  1. Junkies gotta fix, politicians gotta run.

  2. I think that it’s going to cause an unbelievable shift in the way that people look at the Libertarian Party.

    I think you might be too optimistic about the nature of that perception shift, Mr Dunn.

  3. Question: Can Bill Weld get any more garbage-y?

    Answer: “Libertarian vice-presidential nominee Bill Weld endorsed….incumbent Lisa Murkowski.”

    1. And she’s one of the WORST GOP senators in office too! She has scuttled several decent things Trump was trying to get done. Weld is so worthless.

    2. Yes, he is a phony. Make him go away.

  4. Why does Reason insist on showing Johnson and Weld pictured together?

    Its like Reason really is anti-Libertarian. Since Weld hates Libertarianism and he is shown to be buddies with GJ, it reflects poorly on GJ’s Libertarian qualities.

    1. Far better to show a picture of Trump, since all the GJ haters revolted and pulled the lever for True(tim) Libertarian DT.

      1. Not every Gay Jay hater voted for Trump. Some people thought his “religious liberty is a black hole” was indistinguishable and just as disqualifying as Trump’s proposed “Muslim ban”. Others just wanted to focus on his milquetoast record of kinda sorta producing balanced budgets in New Mexico.

        1. I will forever argue that Gary and Weld were by far the only logical and ethical option in the 2016 election, and it wasn’t even close.

          1. I would strenuously disagree with that contention. But, to each his own. You got a tough climb ahead of you trying to repackage Bill Weld, though.

            1. I’m not trying to repackage him, and I absolutely wish somebody else won at the convention, but I’m talking about the general election, and they 100% would have been better than the other three options.

              1. To each his own. The 2016 election might have been a good example of why “not voting” is the best choice. But, I don’t fault people for who they voted for or what policies they prioritize over others

              2. Not likely. Johnson would, today, be getting his ass handed to him on a daily basis by the mainstream politicians of both parties in Congress. He doesn’t have Trump’s tenacious, bulldog confrontationalism. It would look like a fight between a bunny and a steamroller.

            2. Still trying to figure out why Weld has taken an interest in the LP. He’s a 1990s moderate/liberal Republican who said he considered himself a “libertarian” because he did not support the Massachusetts mandatory seat belt law at the time. Otherwise, he was very pro-Law and Order/Drug War and signed every huge budget handed to him by the state legislature.

              1. Weld wants to help destroy the LP.

                As a political creature, Weld, can see the winds blowing his Democratic Party house down. He needs to find a new home.

            3. Comparing GayJay to Trump and Hillary, yes, GayJay is just the better human being.

              Comparing GayJay to what a libertarian is supposed to be, well, he fell a bit short.

          2. I voted for Gay Jay because he was running Libertarian and I had no idea that Trump could have gotten more Libertarian-ish stuff done than GJ.

            Unless an actual Libertarian is running for President in 2020, I am voting for Trump.

          3. I agree completely. I probably wasn’t going to vote republican or democrat anyways once Rand was out of the race, but there was no way I was going to vote for Clump.

  5. Johnson/Weld got the highest vote total ever for the Libertarian Party.

    Which is why we CANNOT ever have candidates like this again! Aargh! Imagine how horrible it would be if an LP candidate actually won! It would be a nightmare. Which is why we need to stick to either purist candidates or absolute whackjobs. We’re a debating club dammit, not a political party!

    1. If libertarians were nominated, I bet people would vote for them.

      1. I don’t. This is why ppl vote for Rs and Ds. The want more more more.

        1. As Just Say’n mentioned too, the LP are not always Libertarians.

          Why let a Democrat win, who you can be sure holds positions opposite that of Libertarianism?

          1. While I agree that Democrats are somewhat more evil than the Republicans, no libertarian would ever get the R’s nomination.

            Look at how Rand Paul gets ridiculed by the base.

            As far as the LP goes, unless they re-package themselves I’m not sure if they’ll ever be taken seriously.

            1. Regarding Rand Paul. I don’t listen to NPR much and only read the Washington Post, LA times, etc.. articles that google puts on my phone, but it seems like every left of center outlet refers to Rand Paul as ‘conservative’, ‘ultra-conservative’, or ‘far-right-wing’.

              He isn’t the libertarian candidate I want, but he is also none of those labels. Rand Paul is getting seriously mislabeled, and I believe it hurts him and libertarianism in general. Which is probably why they do it.

              Republicans have been neutralized as a threat to statists. Libertarians are our only hope…

      2. I’m not saying Johnson and Weld were by any means an ideal ticket from any perspective, electoral or otherwise, but that’s a pretty dubious assertion. Even more so when you consider the actual alternatives available to the LP.

    2. Imagine if the Libertarian Party won a major election with a lukewarm libertarianish democrat and a lifelong political operative who endorses the worst of the opposition parties’ policies.

      Why it’d almost make electing them pointless.

  6. As long as no one asks him about Syria he should do fine.

  7. Gary is still undecided about what he would do about Aleppo?

    1. In Gary’s defense, that was the weakest argument against the man. He can’t bomb a place that he doesn’t know about.

      1. GJ only really mistake was the forcing bakers to bake cakes thing.

        A presidential candidate should know stuff about newsworthy places but everyone has a gaffe.

        Forcing bakers to bakes cakes was 100% anti-Libertarian.

        1. that and picking Weld as a running mate.

          Johnson is a frickin anarchocapitalist next to Weld.

  8. Has he found Aleppo yet?

  9. When Libertarians run in dem districts, most voters think of Somalia or the Koch bros. When Libertarians run in republican districts, most voters think of heroin and Mexican butt sex. So there are few truly non-partisan places Ls can run successfully.

  10. He is such a joke. I don’t know if I would vote for him even if it were my state. I supported him as best I could in the presidential election but by the time it came to vote I was just embarrassed to support him.

  11. You can be “done” with elected office and still run, amirite?

  12. Path Cleared for Still-Undecided Gary Johnson’s Potentially Historic Senate Bid

    Pass.

  13. Gary Johnson: Catch the Ambivalence!

  14. I have a lot of respect for Aubrey Dunn here too. According to the Albuquerque Journal, he now has a chance in his remaining term to demonstrate how L’s are different from R’s when it comes to cronyism.

    Better to actually accomplish something IN office than just to stake claims for a ‘bigger’ office.

    The combo of what he can do and what Gary Johnson can do this year could really provide the NM LP with both a future bench and a real message.

  15. He’d be a shoe in for the foreign relations committee!

    In all seriousness, I think I like this. He’s goofy and not a good campaigner, but I think he could be a decent senator, and would probably do better in a senate race than a national election like President.

  16. No such thing as a Left-Libertarian. Just like there are no right-Libertarians.

    If you are a socialist, then say socialist. There are no left-socialists.

    If you are an anarchist, then say anarchist.

    Being Libertarian means you support very specific things and the biggest room for wiggle room is how little to spend on the small and limited government. Most things Libertarians just leave up to the free market and individual choice.

    1. And the fact that most libertarians would say you aren’t libertarian says what about your views, exactly?

    2. Just for you, LC, because I know it will blow your mind:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

      1. Ultimately the adjectives “libertarian” and “authoritarian” have been misused very prominently in recent years, to varying degrees of ridiculousness. As for the “socialist-libertarian” and related oxymorons, I tend to see it more as communities working together voluntarily on their own terms, whatever you call it. There’s a distinction without a difference. It’s the voluntary part that’s important. Whether the government is central, or regional, participation in single-payer services and schemes should still be entirely voluntary for me to consider that system libertarian. People working together is good. Pooling resources and cooperating is often a great idea, as long as it’s not coerced. There’s nothing wrong with a commune deciding to live as a self-contained socialist unit, and individuals choosing to opt in, but this doesn’t seem to occur to many critics of libertarian ideas. Lots of people voluntarily go to live and work in a commune and communes can work very well, because people do it voluntarily. Have I said voluntarily enough? Sorry I have rambled on with this. Chemjeff I can’t remember if you’re one of the posters who is crazy vitriolic and ascerbic in responses but perhaps not and I hope some of that made sense.

        1. Exactly. Libertarianism is volunteerism with small and limited government for things like national defense, courts, and roads.

          Libertarianism is very closely aligned with classical liberalism. In fact, Libertarians would probably still call themselves Liberals or lazee faire capitalists if it werent for socialist progressives hijacking ‘liberal’.

      2. Without even looking at your link, libertarians cannot be socialists. Socialism violates basic fundamentals of Libertarianism. No free market under socialism.

    3. Yes there is LC.

      One can have core libertarian beliefs, but weigh some things differently than others. For example I’m classified as a right-libertarian because economic freedom and gun rights are much more important to me than gay rights and marijuana.

      1. If you are against people ingesting whatever they want the you are not a Libertarian. Who cares what you weigh more over what. Which is why there are no left or right Libertarians.

        Gun rights are extensions of self defense which is a natural right. There is zero good reason for a government to regulate Arms as arms are products too and govenrment should never be able to ban products or services. Thats free market. Everything is tradable.

      2. Actually there are left-libertarians even on the economic freedom stuff. Just depends on whether they view the state more as encouraging corporatism or more as restricting free market

        I’m not one – but I do think that those folks are far better – and magnitudes more consistent – at identifying corporatism and cronyism than Randians/Austrians are

    4. In my mind I use the “which stuff is more important” rule, which is why I think left/right libertarians do exist. Another is what situations are you okay with maybe not going full bore libertarian on, and what direction do you lean. I’m not a purist libertarian, I’m pragmatic on some stuff. I care more about the right leaning libertarian positions, but support the social stuff as well… However if I’m going to give ground on stuff on pragmatic grounds I am way more willing to let left leaning stuff slide. In the few instances where I outright don’t believe a pure libertarian approach works, I’m almost 100% right leaning on those subjects.

      So I think they exist, and I think right libertarians have a far more realistic ideology that would actually function in the real world. The founding fathers (the good ones anyway) were mostly right libertarians in modern terminology, and that’s good company to be in.

  17. Why is Bill Weld standing with Ellen Degeneres?

  18. So, is Johnson gonna run on a non-interventionist foreign policy, or is he gonna embrace the Russophobia the anti-Trump contingent slobbers over?

    Funnily enough, he opposed the Iran nuclear deal, which is dumb, because it was one of the few good things Obama did.

  19. I think Gay Jay would make an okay senator. He might completely piss me off on some stuff where he sides with the Dems and they’re in the wrong… But he’d surely be better than most in either party overall.

    The fact that he’s in a race where the R has zero chance of winning makes me feel pretty okay about it all. If he were in a situation where he might be tanking an R I would be more apprehensive… Even a shitty R that will tow the line for some of the good things Trump is trying to do could be very valuable in the coming years.

    In a lot of ways if the Rs were smart they would literally stop running people for some races in blue states, and let the Libertarian Party run instead since they’d have a better chance. It would still be a lost cause in hardcore blue places like California, BUT in a place that is maybe 55-60% Democratic leaning an L might be able to win, whereas an R is a lost cause. If the L won, the Rs would have somebody they could at least work with on some stuff, if they lost they’d still be ahead because they didn’t waste resources running an unwinnable race.

  20. Poll numbers don’t mean crap, unless Johnson actually runs an effective campaign, brings in a debate coach, a PR guy/public image guy, and actually makes himself more knowledgeable about the world he’ll lose again.

    Moreover, I see no reason why the Republicans should pull their candidate out of the race, looking at Johnson’s last two campaigns they could easily deduce that he’ll run as a social progressive again, and/or not study or pay attention to world events and therefore come off as dunce, all of which would help the Republican candidate. Or he’ll run such a lackluster campaign and fail to bring in any money that those poll numbers in the “20%” range will collapse back into single digits in a month.

    Instead of ever taking on a Senate run Aubrey Dunn should’ve focused completely on his job as land commissioner and found ways for the public to actually see and appreciate his accomplishments in that job. He then should’ve run for re-election, won that election then continued to build his candidate profile through actual accomplishments which he could’ve used for a potential congressional run in the future. That’s how the LP builds a bench of candidates for public office.

  21. If there were no other issues on the planet than pot legalization, then would understand the Gary Johnson fetish by Reason.

  22. The graphic from SmartPolitics.org, a group which seems to be defunct, or at least which has lost its domain name, is inaccurate.

    in 2016 Martin Moulton earned 6.3% of the vote in a 3 way race (Libertarian, Democrat, Green) running against Eleanor Holmes Norton for Congress in Washington, D.C. https://ballotpedia.org/Martin_Moulton

    In 2012 Bruce Majors (me) one 6% of the vote in the same 3 way race (Libertarian, Democrat, Green) against Eleanor Holmes Norton. http://dcist.com/2012/11/liber….._party.php

    So there are two major errors in this table just from my own back yard.

  23. The Johnson rises again!

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