Mitt Romney is afraid of being embarrassed in his home state by a socially liberal candidate who has admitted to smoking pot in his past — no, not President Obama: It’s Libertarian Gary Johnson. That’s the basis of a lawsuit expected to be filed in Michigan next week by the Libertarian Party of Michigan, alleging the Republican secretary of state is working to keep Johnson off the ballot this November.
Johnson started out as a Republican candidate for president, but dropped out to run for the Libertarian nomination after the former New Mexico governor’s brand of socially liberal, fiscally extremely conservative politics (for the uninitiated, Johnson’s for legalizing pot, he’s pro-choice, pro-gay marriage and he wants to slash the federal budget by more than $1 trillion in his first budget) failed to gain any traction in the crowded GOP primary.
Last month, Johnson picked up the Libertarian nomination, putting him in position to appear on the ballot in most states as a third-party candidate and helping him qualify for federal matching funds.
But thanks to what Libertarians and their allies call an unprecedented and politically motivated reading of an obscure state law, Johnson likely won’t appear on the ballot in Michigan, a state Romney would love to win in the general and which he only barely won over Rick Santorum in the Republican primary.
That’s because Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson (R) told the Libertarian Party last month that Johnson filed his paperwork withdrawing from the GOP presidential primary back in November 2011 three minutes too late (4:03 instead of 4 p.m., according to a letter from Johnson’s office to the Libertarian Party), and thus fell prey to the state’s “sore-loser law,” which bars candidates who lose in a party primary from switching to another party to run in the general election. Most other states have similar laws; but rarely are they used to keep presidential candidates off ballot the ballot, according to experts.
“This particular action has never been taken,” said Richard Winger, who runs the blog Ballot Access News. “It’s unprecedented.”
Winger explained the back story on his blog:
This law was passed in 1955, at a time when Michigan did not have a presidential primary. In 1980, John B. Anderson formed the “Anderson Coalition Party” within Michigan, and his name was printed as that party’s presidential nominee in November 1980, even though Anderson had run in the Michigan Republican presidential primary on May 20. Thus, a precedent was set that this law does not apply to presidential primary candidates.
Winger says the political motivation is clear.
“I don’t think a Democratic secretary of state would have done this,” he said.
Libertarians also smell a rat, and they’re taking the case to court. The Libertarian Party of Michigan intends to file a lawsuit next week aimed at forcing the state to put Johnson on the ballot.
“In my personal opinion I think someone has done some polling and thinks Gov. Johnson is going to hurt Romney more than Obama,” said William Hall, the Michigan Libertarian Party treasurer.
There’s been no recent polling of a potential three-way race with President Obama, Romney and Johnson in the state, but early national polling showed Johnson’s name on the November ballot makes things a little easier for Obama. Johnson himself has denied this, claiming he would siphon votes from both parties.
But Libertarians in Michigan — which is currently run by Republicans and whose attorney general endorsed Romney — believe the GOP is worried about Johnson potentially embarrassing Romney in the state the projected Republican nominee’s father governed in the 1960s.
But Republicans may not have a choice, even if the state succeeds in keeping the Libertarian Party nominee off the ballot. Johnson supporters located another libertarian named Gary Johnson (he’s a businessman in Texas) and are prepared to nominate him for the party’s Michigan ballot line if the New Mexican Gary Johnson doesn’t make it. Supporters of the former Gov. Johnson say they will allow a sham Johnson campaign in Michigan and still win votes away from major party candidates.
“Michigan Libertarians, by taking this courageous act of defiance, have made a bold statement to the powers that be,” the Texan Gary Johnson said in a statement provided by Roger Stone, the Republican operative who dropped his GOP affiliation and is advising Johnson. “And that statement is, ‘We want to use the Gary Johnson for President signs and bumper stickers that we already printed!’”