Analysis: Why Everyone Should be Watching New Mexico

Gary Johnson, former two-term New Mexico governor and two-time Libertarian presidential candidate, officially re-entered politics in announcing his run for New Mexico’s open Senate seat under the Libertarian Party banner. This comes after Aubrey Dunn, the original LP nominee for New Mexico’s Senate seat, dropped out of the race to “focus on his job as state land commissioner.” Johnson now faces Democratic incumbent Martin Heinrich and Republican challenger Mike Rich.

Johnson has admitted he faces a few obstacles to victory in November. New Mexico’s secretary of state recently reinstated straight-ticket voting, earning criticism from Johnson and a lawsuit from the New Mexico Republican and Libertarian parties, who argue that the change will benefit the dominant Democratic Party. RealClearPolitics rates New Mexico’s Senate race as “Safe Dem,” likely because the state leans heavily Democratic (45.9% of New Mexico’s voters are Democrats, whereas only 30.5% of NM voters are Republicans).

On the other hand, Johnson has a lot going for him. He enjoys considerable name recognition in New Mexico. His best showing during the 2016 presidential election was in New Mexico—his home state—garnering 9% of the vote. Additionally, Johnson was twice elected as New Mexico’s governor in the late 90’s, having won as a Republican in a state that was—and still is—heavily Democratic. A recent poll from Emerson College puts him at 21%, with Heinrich at 39% and Mike Rich at 11% (Johnson also beats out Rich among Republicans, pulling in 27% against Rich’s 25%). If this poll is any indication of the next few months of the race, it shows that Johnson, not Rich, will be Heinrich’s main challenger. And this indication hasn’t been lost on Heinrich’s supporters; Elizabeth Warren has publicly attacked Gary Johnson’s policies.

But most noteworthy is Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) recent endorsement of Johnson. Garnering such a significant endorsement from a sitting senator of another party is telling of Johnson’s policies and his past record of governor of New Mexico. During his tenure, Johnson vetoed over 700 bills from the state legislature. He cut taxes and balanced the state’s budget. As for his policies, Johnson’s ideology and priorities closely mirror those of Senator Paul. Johnson strongly favors the legalization of marijuana, wants to cut taxes and spending, and make it easier for immigrants to come to the United States.

But Johnson is certainly running a long-shot candidacy. A Libertarian has never won a congressional race, but if Johnson were to win, it would mean several different things for the Libertarian Party. For one, the party would gain greater legitimacy with the political mainstream and voters would see it as a viable alternative that can win elections. The policies that the LP advocates for—minimum government and maximum freedom—will have to be addressed by the major parties if they are to continue to stay in power, or else they risk losing more elections to Libertarian candidates, while facing serious opposition in the meantime. And finally, more people will find out about the Libertarian Party and have a better working knowledge of what the party stands for and what it will do once it can win elections.

By virtue of entering the NM Senate race, Johnson has made his race more interesting, and could have political ramifications both for his party and for the Republicans and Democrats. Even if he loses, it is still likely that he will collect a large number of votes, making his Senate bid one of the most successful in LP history.

Disclaimer: Zach Neeley is the Deputy Chief of Staff for Mark Tippetts, the 2018 Libertarian candidate for Governor of Texas.

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