Former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), best known for his advocacy of cutting government spending, legalizing marijuana, and ending the U.S occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan; officially became the first Republican to unequivocally announce that he is a candidate for the Republican nomination for President.
Johnson, 58 is a former business man turned and two-term Governor of New Mexico skipped the traditional exploratory committee phase which several more establishment candidates are now in; becoming the first offically declared Presidential candidate; as he revealed his plans Thursday via twitter and later in front of the media on the steps of the New Hampshire statehouse.
“Today’s mess didn’t just happen. We elected it — one senator, member of Congress and president at a time,” Johnson said in a statement. “Our leaders in Washington, D.C., have ‘led’ America to record unemployment, a devalued currency, banking scandals, the mortgage crisis, drug crisis, economic crisis, loss of our nation’s industrial might — and a long list of other reminders our nation is way off course.”
He has long been thought of as a long shot for the presidency, though he surprised many with a strong showing in the CPAC straw poll earlier this year.
Johnson has made a name for himself with his record of aggressively cutting government spending, calls for shrinking the size of government, ending the U.S occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the legalization of marijuana (which he admitted to using for medical reasons between 2005 and 2008).
The former Governor with his socially liberal positions, record of fiscal frugality and shrinking government, and his skeptisim of large U.S millitary interventions overseas; had led many to believe that he could be the Ron Paul candidate of 2012. His record as Governor and anti-establishment stance would likely have strong appeal among libertarians, advocates of cutting the cost of government, war critics, and more socially moderate young people.
Having said all that, Johnson is a long shot in what will likely be a crowded field. His support of legalizing marijuana and gay marriage may distinguish him from others, but it will certainly not gain him the support of the religious right or Iowa caucus voters who tend to be the more socially conservative bloc of the Republican party. He will incur the fervent opposition of neoconservatives too. Johnson is also supportive of block granting medicare and medicaid, similar to unpopular Ryan budget proposal, which could hurt him with the broader electorate.
In terms of obstacles to mounting a serious campaign, the more establishment candidates such as Pawlenty or Romney mold; as well as the hard to the right candidates (such as Sarah Palin or Donald Trump) have dominated the headlines; possibly giving little room for a maverick such as Johnson. It will be interesting to see how Johnson also plans to increase his name recognition and standing in the polls, while avoiding to pitfall of being viewed as a single issue candidate (regarding his stand on marijuana and the ‘War on Drugs’), and if he can tap into the huge reservoir of campaign cash Ron Paul did in 2008.
In the end he is unlikely to be the GOP’s general election candidate, given the obstacles within his own party. But much like Ron Paul three years earlier (who is himself mulling another run); there could be a spot for him to affect the discussion and excite certain segments of the electorate such as libertarians and young people.