A cranky spoiler to some, a lovable goofball with serious ideas to others, 2016 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson has jumped back into electoral politics with a late decision to run for the Senate in his home state of New Mexico this year, per this upbeat ad depicting him as something of a cross between Jim Thorpe and Pericles:
Last October, after an extended disappearance from public life, Johnson told the Washington Post’s David Weigel: “I’m never going to be a candidate again.” But then the New Mexico Libertarian Party came knocking after its U.S. Senate candidate dropped out, and the former two-term governor from back in the day (he left office in 2003) changed his mind.
Johnson set a Libertarian Party record in 2016 by winning 3 percent of the national popular vote, and more to the point, just under 10 percent in New Mexico. His leap into the Senate race is more than anything else a wake-up call for incumbent Democratic senator Martin Heinrich, who had been coasting to an easy reelection win over underfunded Republican political novice Mick Rich. But it seems Team Heinrich got ready in a hurry: They are already out with a poll showing their guy leading a three-candidate field at 47 percent, with Rich taking 29 percent and Johnson 22 percent. The poll also gives Johnson an underwater 25/38 approval ratio.
It’s unclear what sort of resources Johnson can bring to the race, and what he will choose to say about the current president of the United States, which will help determine which pool of major-party voters he is likely to dip into most effectively. At the time of his interview with Weigel, he was saying Trump’s presidency “could be the end of the republic as we know it.” It’s also worth knowing that most analyses of the 2016 vote concluded that Johnson drew more voters from Clinton than from Trump (though many Johnson voters would have just stayed home had the Libertarian option not been available to them).
If he does begin to pose a real threat to Heinrich, you can be sure the senator’s campaign will make sure to accentuate the issue positions that have made Libertarians the fringe party they have always been. And if it comes down to a candidate debate, I’d guess Heinrich will ask Johnson what he thinks about Aleppo.
Odds are Johnson will head back into retirement, but this time without his last race making him wonder if he had played a part in a terrible thing happening to his country.