Gary Johnson has officially announced his bid for the Libertarian nomination for president, bucking the Republican primary he feels has left him out in the cold. The former governor of New Mexico is not going to win the presidency, but he could throw a wrench into the race between President Obama and his GOP rival.
Public Policy Polling found earlier this month that Johnson would draw most of his support from Mitt Romney’s supporters, were he the nominee. Their poll showed Romney barely winning in a two-person race, but losing to Obama once Johnson took in 9% of the vote. Now that three-way scenario seems like it could happen. If Johnson gets the Libertarian nod, he’ll be on the ballot in all 50 states.
As a Libertarian, Johnson appeals to fiscally conservative voters with an economic policy stance that resembles Ron Paul’s. But unlike Paul, his libertarianism means support for abortion rights and same-sex marriage equality.
The biggest headache for Republicans is that Johnson, who currently polls at 23% in his native New Mexico, would almost certainly throw the swing state to Obama. Romney would likely take third place in the state.
If there is a downside for the President, it’s Johnson’s appeal to young voters, who care about social issues like marriage equality and likely agree with Johnson’s desire to legalize marijuana. Public Policy Polling director Tom Jenson told TPM last week that this is a real fear for Democrats, who will need to rejuvenate their support among millennial voters in 2012: “Johnson gets 14% with voters under 30 nationally and 29% in New Mexico, so yes, he is unusually strong with young voters,” Jensen said. ” There are a lot of young folks who have lost their enthusiasm about Obama but also find the GOP completely repulsive and could find Johnson to be an attractive alternative.”
It’s hard to game out the general election this far out, but there are a few more ways Johnson’s bid could play out. He could get an endorsement from Ron Paul at some point, throwing even more Republican and youth support his way. Alternatively, Ron Paul could seek his own independent run and knock the wind out of Johnson’s sails. But whatever happens, Johnson’s ability to upset the race will depend on the degree to which Democrats and Republicans can shore up their traditional constituencies by next November.