In an election rife with Never-Trumpers and Bernie Bros, the Libertarian presidential ticket traveled to Miami-Dade County on Wednesday evening in search of disenfranchised voters and some badly needed media exposure.
Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, both former two-term Republican governors, spoke to a packed and excited house at Florida International University’s Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center. They talked about abolishing income taxes, answered questions about relaxing immigration red tape, and left with two Arturo Fuente Presidente cigars — a gift from a supporter who asked them to smoke the stogies when they hit the 15 percent polling number needed to force their way into the presidential debates.
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Whether they’ll get there, though, remains questionable. A third party hasn’t broken into the debates since Ralph Nader did it in 2000, and the Libertarian candidates are currently polling in the high single-digits.
“Right now in America, 70 percent of people don’t even know we exist,” presidential candidate Johnson, 63, acknowledged Wednesday.
But they’re on the radar. And with both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump plagued by high unlikeability numbers, the former two-term Republican governors believe they’ve got a shot. They’re relying on discontent with America’s two-party system, and hoping to improve on a surge in fundraising that has helped their campaign raise about $3 million this month alone.
They’re also banking on popularity with young voters, a stance that may or may not be buoyed by a pledge to legalize marijuana — which received one of the loudest cheers of the night.
“If we can’t pick up 5 percent in the month of September, I’d be very surprised,” said Weld, 71. “There is a prairie fire here and people are coming to the fact that the two resident monopoly parties have not exactly covered themselves in glory the last 15 years.”
They’ve already won over one notable South Florida Republican. Former Miami-Dade state representative J.C. Planas introduced them Wednesday night, arguing that voters who believe they’re “throwing their vote away” by choosing a third party are doing the opposite by voting for a candidate they don't actually support. Planas is among South Florida Republican pols who've sworn they won’t vote for Trump.
“The [Republican] party has veered too far to the right on social issues, but we’ve also nominated someone who’s unqualified to be president,” said Planas, who still identifies as Republican. “I'm a die-hard conservative when it comes to economics but we need to be socially tolerant. I think this is a time that really has come.”
Johnson, wearing blue jeans, a pale, striped suit jacket and his trademark Nike sneakers, spoke against the death penalty and advocated for gun rights, although he evoked the recent Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in arguing for a debate about keeping guns out of the hands of potential terrorists and the mentally ill. He argued for a “free-market approach” to healthcare.
Missing: comments on climate change or Cuba.
Through it all he received loud cheers from an audience filled with the young and old, die-hard libertarians and the simply curious. Camilo Vilaplana, an 18-year-old senior at Immaculata-LaSalle High School who wore a Johnson-Weld T-shirt, said he refuses to vote for the lesser of two “bad candidates.”
“Almost half the country is actually libertarian, they just don't know it,” he said.
On Wednesday, Johnson sounded as if he really believed it.
“This has been a crazy election. You know how crazy it is?” he asked the audience.
When someone yelled back, “How crazy?” he answered: “I'm going to be the next president of the United States.”
This article was updated to correct a quote by former state representative J.C. Planas, who believes in social tolerance.
THE LIBERTARIAN TICKET
Presidential candidate Gary Johnson:
Gary Johnson, the governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, is the Libertarian presidential nominee. The 63-year-old left the Republican Party to join the Libertarians in 2011 and ran for president in 2012, capturing just under one percent of the general election vote in the best-ever showing for the party.
Johnson's campaign platforms include legalizing marijuana, protecting the Second Amendment, reforming the tax code and cutting the national debt. In recent national polls Johnson is capturing around 10 percent of the vote, five percent short of the required threshold to participate in the presidential debates.
Vice presidential candidate Bill Weld:
Bill Weld, also a former Republican, served as the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997. Weld, 71, entertained the idea of running as a Libertarian in the 2006 New York gubernatorial race after failing to receive the Republican Party's endorsement. He officially joined the party in 2016.
During the nominating convention, some Libertarian activists raised questions over Weld's small-government credentials during his tenure as governor, but Weld ultimately won the vice presidential nomination after Johnson argued he could bring fundraising power and momentum to the party.
— Alex Daugherty