Excluded from most of the GOP primary debates, his New Hampshire campaign going nowhere, switching parties is now his best option
Going into his presidential run, Gary Johnson knew that he lacked name recognition outside New Mexico, where he spent eight years as governor, and that he wouldn't be able to raise as much money as most of his competitors in the Republican primary. But he figured that if he performed well in televised debates, focused his limited resources on campaigning in New Hampshire, and made his pitch to voters, he just might win over enough people to give him a fighting chance.
As the Jan. 10 primary draws near, however, Johnson 2012 no longer has paid staffers in New Hampshire, the candidate himself is no longer focusing his campaign there, and the longtime Republican is hinting that he might even drop out of the GOP primary and accept overtures from the Libertarian Party to seek its nomination.
Unlike Herman Cain, who turned superficially strong debate performances into rising support in the polls, or Rick Perry, who saw his stock drop after flubbing debate nights, Johnson wasn't even invited to participate in most debates. Was he excluded because he had insufficient support? Or was his dearth of support attributable to debate exclusions? Ultimately, it's impossible to know. Any campaign could conceivably catch on had major factors been different. Or not.
But Johnson insists he has been treated unfairly by debate sponsors. He makes a strong case. For weeks, he was upset that media organizations failed to include him in the very polls subsequently used to determine who had enough support to participate in a debate. Weren't they making it literally impossible for him to qualify?
Now, he is as exasperated at CNBC. "Did you follow the CNBC debate? They had two criteria for being included: being registered as a Republican in the contest and reaching 3 percent in any national poll prior to November 1," he told me. "I was at 3 percent in a Gallup poll in May. And they wouldn't return our phone calls. They wouldn't return our phone calls!" What's a presidential candidate to do when he actually meets the qualifications set by a debate sponsor ... but they won't call him back before the big night?
Johnson reacted to the various snubs by writing a letter of complaint to the Republican National Committee, with which he's always been on good terms. He hoped they'd urge debate sponsors to do things like include him in polls. When the RNC wrote back, he felt they hadn't adequately addressed his letter, and he concluded they were blowing him off. "I'm still hoping eternal that I'm going to get into the last five debates," he said. "But there's just no reason to think it's going to happen. There's no reason to think they'll reverse what they've been doing."