AP Photo/The New Mexican, Clyde Mueller
Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson didn’t get any traction as a Republican running for president. But with his decision last week to be the Libertarian Party candidate, he could be a deciding factor in swing states like Nevada.
Johnson told his supporters last week they should back Rep. Ron Paul for the GOP nomination. But if Paul is unsuccessful, Johnson asked Paul’s supporters to consider voting for him for president in the general election as a Libertarian, as opposed to supporting the prevailing GOP candidate.
And in Nevada, that could tip, if not further bolster, the state going to President Barack Obama.
Whether Obama is re-elected to a second term will depend on a handful of swing states, including Nevada.
Johnson could find a willing audience in Nevada, which has a libertarian history of being pro-small government but socially permissive.
“The Ron Paul folks are going to take a serious look at him,” said conservative political consultant Chuck Muth. “Gary Johnson is absolutely the real deal. As a former governor, he has a hell of a record.”
Johnson was governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 and gained a reputation as being anti-tax and pro-decriminalization of marijuana.
Minor party candidates have not had much impact on Nevada presidential elections in the recent past. In 2008, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr got just 0.44 percent of the vote, less than Ralph Nader of the Green Party. (Barr’s running mate was Wayne Allyn Root, who is from Las Vegas.)
The Libertarian Party is automatically qualified for the presidential ballot in Nevada because one of its candidates got more than 1 percent of the vote in a 2010 congressional race.
Jared Lord, Nevada political director for Johnson’s campaign, said Johnson is “still in the race to win it.”
“A lot of people are dissatisfied with the parties, obviously,” Lord said. “You have the Tea Party on one side, Occupy (Wall Street) on the other.”
Johnson left the Republican Party on Wednesday after he complained that he was shut out of Republican debates. He said the National Republican Party did not advocate to include him.
The Libertarian Party is scheduled to hold its national convention in May in Las Vegas.
Other speculation has Paul running as a third-party candidate if he does not get the Republican nomination. Polling shows that would be a death blow for a Republican presidential nominee. But Paul has said he is not considering a third party run.