Election 2020

Gary Johnson Returns, Jumps Into New Mexico Senate Race

In this Oct. 10, 2016, photo, Libertarian presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson talks about his candidacy at Hilton Santa Fe in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

With a switcheroo from the Libertarian Party, former Gov. Gary Johnson has jumped into the New Mexico Senate race — potentially poising to be a spoiler yet again.

Johnson served two terms as the state’s chief executive from 1995-2002, and first ran for president as a Republican before shifting his candidacy to the Libertarian ticket at the end of 2011. He got 1,275,971 votes in the 2012 election, or 1 percent of the popular vote.

Johnson was in the cannabis business before deciding to take another shot at the White House. His showing improved in 2016 and he got 4,489,235 votes, or 3.3 percent. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were separated by 2.1 percent in the popular vote; Green Party nominee Jill Stein also captured 1.1 percent of the vote.

Now he’ll be trying to oust incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). Mick Rich, a political newcomer and construction company owner, has been battling Heinrich as the GOP nominee. And state Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a former Republican, was on the ballot for the Libertarian Party but dropped out in late July.

Johnson, coming off a summertime 2,700-mile bike ride along the Continental Divide, filed his campaign papers with New Mexico’s secretary of state late Monday evening.

Twenty-two percent of New Mexico voters don’t claim a party affiliation. Local political analysts note that Johnson is a more formidable challenge to Heinrich, but it would be a sharp uphill climb unless Rich — whose race with Heinrich is rated safe for the Dems — drops out of the race.

After news of Johnson’s candidacy broke, Heinrich’s campaign sent out a call for donations: “Breaking: Our race just changed, and we need your help more than ever. Show you stand with Martin by contributing.”

Rich’s communications director, Nathan James, brushed off the threat and predicted Johnson wouldn’t peel off GOP voters.

“Hard-working taxpayers are fed up with career politicians,” James said. “…Gary Johnson says he agrees with socialist Bernie Sanders on 73 percent of political issues. If he’s going to siphon votes, it will be from Martin Heinrich, which will help Mick Rich win.”

Johnson told C-SPAN that in May 2016. “Now, that’s the side of Bernie that has to do with pro-choice, pro-marriage equality, let’s stop with the military interventions, that there is crony capitalism, that government really isn’t fair when it comes to this level playing field, legalize marijuana,” Johnson explained. “Look, 73 percent of what Bernie says I agree with. We come to a T in the road when it comes to economics. I would really argue that if we absolutely had a fair system of economics, that free markets, that we would do a lot better than going down the path of socialism.”

Johnson promoted his candidacy today with a video pitching him as “fiscally conservative and socially cool.”