Election 2018

Johnson admits Libertarian bid to unseat Heinrich is long shot

Libertarian says he would be a skeptic at every turn if elected to Senate post

By Andrew Oxford
aoxford@sfnewmexican.com
Posted 8/17/18

Former Gov. Gary Johnson said he used to believe the job of a U.S. senator was “bellying up to the trough.”

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Election 2018

Johnson admits Libertarian bid to unseat Heinrich is long shot

Libertarian says he would be a skeptic at every turn if elected to Senate post

Posted

Former Gov. Gary Johnson said he used to believe the job of a U.S. senator was “bellying up to the trough.”

Now Washington is exactly where Johnson wants to go.

Speaking publicly Thursday for the first time as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for a U.S. Senate seat, Johnson said unseating Democrat Martin Heinrich would make him a swing vote on big issues, giving New Mexico an influential and independent voice in national politics.

But with Republican Mick Rich showing no sign of dropping out of the Senate race, as some of the former governor’s backers have urged, Johnson also admitted his campaign is a long shot.

Launching his bid less than three months before the Nov. 6 general election, he has little time to raise money and meet with voters.

In suddenly entering what had been a sleepy race, Johnson raises the question of just how far he can ride dissatisfaction with the two major political parties and whether that is enough to beat not just one but two opponents — including an incumbent with a big advantage in fundraising.

To be sure, Johnson, 65, sought to sharply contrast himself with Rich and Heinrich during a wide-ranging news conference in a spartan downtown campaign office.

In a seemingly off-the-cuff address, Johnson said he would be “a skeptic at every turn” if elected. He would push to reduce the size of the federal government, support free trade and immigration and “stop with these military interventions.”

“What does the Department of Homeland Security do?” he asked no one in particular, seeming almost exasperated. “There is no voice in Washington consistently hammering away at why we have gone down the path we have gone down.”

Though Johnson might appeal to many left-leaning voters with his criticism of President Donald Trump and his position on issues such as legalizing marijuana, his message was unapologetically Libertarian.

Johnson said he would vote in favor of Trump’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, if given the chance. And he argued the government should get out of the way of the private sector.

“There is a private solution to everything,” he said.

Calling Johnson a “third-party candidate” would be diminutive. He won two terms as governor in the 1990s as a Republican.

In more recent years, he has run for president twice as a Libertarian, cultivating a public image as a sort of eccentric politician known for his adventures as an endurance athlete. He has ridden his bike twice up the Continental Divide from Antelope Wells, N.M., to Banff, Alberta.

He is also known for his openness about using marijuana, and said he might partake of the drug while a candidate but not while actively campaigning, likening his use to the way some might have a cocktail before bed.

The state Libertarian Party nominated Johnson in a bit of a shake-up.

The party had nominated Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn earlier this year. But he bowed out late last month, calling on Johnson to get in and seize what some saw as an opening in a year when the Republican nominee is not well-known.

Johnson officially filed to run this week.

He was reserved when asked about Heinrich, only going so far as to describe him as a “placeholder.”

“I would really like to refrain from criticism,” Johnson said. “He’s a nice guy.”

Asked how he felt about running against Johnson, Heinrich said in a phone interview, “I’m looking forward to it. I respect Gary. He’s a tremendous athlete, and I’ve enjoyed meeting with him several times through the years.

“If [Johnson] injects some life and interest in this race, that’s great.”

Johnson’s entry, however, “will not change my strategy,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich said his campaign’s polling shows him “in a good position,” but he added, “We’re not going to take anything for granted.”

Heinrich might have little to worry about if Rich remains in the race and Johnson mostly draws votes from the Republican’s supporters.

Nonetheless, Heinrich’s fellow Democrats were quick to pounce.

Marg Elliston, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party, issued a statement Thursday criticizing Johnson as extreme and touting issues — health care and Social Security — Heinrich likely will have to focus on to contrast himself with his new challenger.

Despite Heinrich’s optimistic tone Thursday, as well as reporting having about a $4 million war chest as of late June, his campaign has sent potential supporters desperate-sounding pleas for cash.

“This could spell bad news for our campaign,” said one such email after Johnson confirmed he would enter the race.

The New Mexican’s Steve Terrell contributed to this report.

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