Who in the World Is Gary Johnson -- and Why Don't You Know About Him?


John Curren, a 43-year-old insurance manager living in Richmond, V.A., believed in hope and change four years ago. That's why he voted for then-Senator Barack Obama. Four years later, he said that while he thinks President Obama had good ideas, he has been obstructed by both his own party and by Republicans. So this election season, he is not voting for Obama--but he isn't voting for Mitt Romney either.

Curren is part of a group that may be small and somewhat unknown but that is powered by its passion for the small business owner and former New Mexico governor who vetoed 750 bills, cut tax rates 14 times without raising them and left office with a $1 billion budget surplus. His name is Gary Johnson and if you didn't know -- he is running for President of the United States on the Libertarian ticket.

The fact that you may have not heard of Johnson does not make you uninformed. According to a recent report by the Pew Center for People & the Press, only a quarter of voters have -- and only 5% have heard a lot about him. However, that doesn't mean you wouldn't agree with him. The website Isidewith.com, which features a political quiz that well over 3 million people have filled it out, suggests that if the Presidential race was based on people’s beliefs, it would be between Obama and Johnson.

Johnson's hard-line policies are ambitious—and in many instances, radical. If elected, he said he'd abolish the IRS and enact a "fair tax," reduce federal involvement in the economy by eliminating government support for mortgage giants Fannie and Freddie Mac, reject bailouts, cut spending by revising terms for entitlement programs like Medicare and eliminate what he calls "ineffective military interventions."

"People are usually voting for the lesser of two evils," explained Debbie Dean, an Ohio-based farmer and owner of Dean's Greenhouse. "But Gary Johnson is not being included in polls, and I think the American public is being prohibited [from having] a real choice."

Johnson, who calls himself more socially liberal than Obama and more fiscally conservative than Romney, recognizes that the recognition problem is a huge one -- and he said as much in an interview with Fox Business Network's John Stossel on September 13.

"Well, the issue for me is just being in the polls to begin with," he said. "If I were just recognized for where I was right now nationally, you know what the overwhelming reaction would be…. 'Who the hell is Gary Johnson?' and that would be a good thing."

Where Johnson is nationally is hard to track accurately since in most major Presidential surveys, third-party candidates are not mentioned by name. And while Johnson is now on the ballot in 47 states, he still is in the process of making his case in court for the remaining three states (Pennsylvania, Michigan and Oklahoma).

"I don't have to compromise my values to vote for Johnson," he said. "With the other two candidates at least some portion of their platform, I do."

- Josh Rawdon, registered Ohio voter

Despite the uphill battle, Johnson still might make a difference in this election. According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, 3% of likely voters would vote for Johnson and 4% of registered voters said they will vote for him.

But whether more people will vote – or know to vote for him -- is up for debate. On Friday, Johnson filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the National Commission on Presidential Debates challenging his exclusion from the upcoming presidential debates.

In a statement, senior Johnson advisor Ron Nielson said: "There is nothing remotely surprising in the fact that a private organization created by and run by the Republican and Democratic Parties have only invited the Republican and Democratic candidates to their debates. It is a bit more disturbing that the national news media has chosen to play the two-party game, when a full one-third of the American people do not necessarily identify with either of those two parties." (The only debate in which Johnson has been included was the GOP debate sponsored by Fox News on Sept 22, 2011, where he drew applause when he said: "My next-door neighbors' two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.")

Not having Johnson at the upcoming debates seems to be positive for both of the big-party candidates. In the recent CNN poll, Obama leads Romney 52% to 46% when Romney and Obama are the only candidates. However, Romney's support goes down three percentage points with the inclusion of third-party candidates. Obama's support goes down 1% point.

Twenty-eight-year-old Marine Corp. veteran Josh Rawdon, a registered voter in Ohio, is voting for Johnson, regardless of whether or not he is at the debates. But Rawdon believes if Johnson was there, he'd make a big impact.

"If he was there to challenge Obama and Romney, he could be a challenger for the presidency because he is actually answering the questions," said Rawdon.

Rawdon may be emblematic of young voters who came out for President Obama four years ago and now see Johnson as an attractive alternative. The YouTube parody of the hit song by Goyte -- "The Obama that I Used to Know" -- which has garnered over a million views, seems to hit home with disenchanted former Obama voters. And Johnson clearly recognizes the importance of tapping into the young and passionate cohort that heavily supported Texas Rep. Ron Paul before he ended his attempt for GOP presidential nomination earlier this year.

On Sept. 17, Johnson told Fox Business's Neil Cavuto: "My voice right now is representative of the fastest-growing segment of American politics today. It's young people who realize that they are screwed. That they aren't going to have any retirement. That they aren't going to have any healthcare. Young people are graduating from college today with [the equivalent of a] home mortgage without a home and I'm talking now about student loans and what's the cause for high tuition in this country? It's the government guaranteeing student loans."

Debbie Dean agrees.

"Young people are disillusioned. They don't have jobs, they have school debt," said Dean, who is volunteering for Johnson's campaign in Ohio. "It's easy for kids to get loans, but when they get out of school they can't get a job and can't pay the loan."

Dean also said small business owners are disillusioned. She said she is worried that her family-owned farm, Dean's Greenhouse, which has been in existence since 1924, may not make it through after President Obama's healthcare initiative is enacted. She believes it could raise the current cost of healthcare for her employees.

"We've always offered healthcare, and I am personally on the plan," she said. "But if things get rough and I had to choose between providing healthcare and letting my business die, I'd have to choose my business."

Johnson knows a little something about small business. He started as a handyman in Albuquerque in 1974 and by 1999, he had a 1,000-person construction company called Big J Enterprises, which he sold for $10 million.

Johnson believes the Fair Tax, which would eliminate all federal taxes on business income and investments, would provide an immediate boost to small business.

"If, as others are advocating, reducing business taxes, such as the corporate income tax, would be helpful, eliminating them altogether in favor of a consumption tax would be a huge step in terms of freeing up capital, increasing competitiveness, and creating jobs," said Joe Hunter, Johnson's communication director in an email to Fox Business.

Hunter also pointed out that ending "federal manipulation of the free market" and getting government out of the way would ultimately be the best initiative to help small business.

However, while Johnson's passionate and steadfast positions on everything from small business to abolishing the IRS to legalizing marijuana have appeal for a wide range of voters, the likelihood of his candidacy having any impact on this election is slim if he isn't able to take part in the Presidential debates, which start October 3. And Johnson knows that best.

"Someone has to stand up and call this what it is: A rigged system designed entirely to protect and perpetuate the two-party duopoly," said Johnson advisor Ron Nielson. "That someone will be the Johnson campaign."

In a talk before a student libertarian group at New York University on Sept. 18, Johnson answered critics who often like to repeat the refrain that a Johnson vote is a wasted vote.

"I'm going to argue not that I am the third choice in this election but that I am the only choice in this election," he said. "What happens if you all waste your vote on me? I will be the next President of the United States."

Mathew Erickson, an ardent Johnson supporter who recently started his own libertarian website called LibertarianPolitics.info, echoes his presidential pick's sentiments.

"The only wasted vote is the vote that gets cast against your better judgment," said Erickson.

Josh Rawdon, who thinks Romney's stance on gay rights is "appalling" and the liberal Obama’s infringement on civil liberties "ironic," said he’s eager to cast his vote.

"I don't have to compromise my values to vote for Johnson," he said. "With the other two candidates at least some portion of their platform, I do."

Follow Christina on Twitter at @ChristinaScotti