There was an unusual amount of energy in the room, particularly for a fringe party candidate whose ticket is currently polling at 6 percent. But that’s up from the 1.1 percent Johnson received in 2012. The Libertarian ticket is receiving at least 15 percent support in 15 states.
Judging from the polls, a Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump election may be the best thing that’s ever happened to the Libertarian party.
Monday night Weld, an attorney and former Massachusetts governor, spoke to a couple hundred people who filled the upstairs venue at Gilley’s. (Trump’s rallies here have filled the ballroom.) “This is the year when people have to think for themselves and not be spoon-fed something from Washington,” Weld says. “We just don’t want anyone to ram anything down anyone’s throat; that’s what it means to be libertarian.”
The impact that Johnson’s campaign will have on future Libertarian party bids isn’t lost on Weld, but he admits that this will likely be his only presidential campaign because of his age. “It feels like being part of a movement that has put the Libertarian party on the map,” Weld says. “The people who come after us are going to be standing on our shoulders and they’re going to start from a much better place than we did.”
Come January, the odds of Johnson moving into the oval office are slim but there’s a much stronger likelihood that the Libertarian party will earn a seat at the big table in future elections. It’s a real possibility that Johnson and his running mate, Bill Weld, will garner more than 5 percent of the popular vote. That means that the Libertarian party will be entitled to some of the perks that the Republican and Democratic parties have enjoyed for decades.
Five percent means federal funding proportional to the amount of votes the party receives. It does not mean that the Libertarian party is automatically on the ballot in every state, like some ads have insinuated. Regardless, members of the Libertarian party see this as the gateway to a three party system and an eventual path to the White House. “We want to be bigger than the delta between the other two parties,” Weld said.
Weld took his turn at the podium for a loose stump speech that elicited cheers of approval for every talking point. The crowd was especially animated when Weld mentioned descheduling marijuana and pardoning Edward Snowden. The stump was followed by an informal 30-minute Q&A that reiterated some of the stump’s talking points but largely allowed the vice-presidential candidate to connect with supporters.
Russell Verney worked as the director or Ross Perot’s 1996 presidential campaign, the most successful third party bid in recent history. Verney says that the Libertarian party has been able to provide ballot access in virtually every state for quite some time, but receiving federal grant money will free up resources to focus on the issues and the voters in the 2020 election. “It changes the dynamics of the campaign,” Verney says. “You can spend all of your time, money and energy competing for votes instead of just qualifying.
One of the main takeaways from this election cycle is the number of new supporters, donors and voters that the Libertarian party has managed to attract. The disillusionment of Democratic and Republican voters by Clinton and Trump has been one of the largest boons to Johnson’s campaign. “[Trump] spent too much time trying to stir up envy and resentment, even hatred, among groups,” Weld says. “People get tired of the negativity in the other two candidates who seem to live with almost no other thought than to kill each other.”
Many attendees said they were voting Libertarian for the first time, and in a quick show of hands, much of the crowd said they under 35.
Many of the attendees said they are disgruntled refugees from Trump and Clinton’s campaigns who plan on voting Libertarian for the first time. Sajith Nandakumar has lived in America for 10 years and is voting for the first time since becoming a citizen. “I feel like more Americans should come forward to say enough is enough,” Nandakumar says. “I want to leave a legacy for my children.”
Disgust with Trump and Clinton seemed to be an overarching theme among some attendees. Wiley Cunningham was one of several in the crowd that feels that they have to vote their conscience in this election. “I’ve always been bullied into voting one way or the other,” Cunningham says. “I’ve got a daughter and at the end of the day I can’t let her grow up in a world where her father is a hypocrite.”
Whatever the motivation, this might be the first presidential election since Perot where voting for a third party could have a tangible effect. A strong turnout for Johnson could entice the election’s winner to adopt some of Johnson’s policies. “Many of our issues got adopted, even though Perot didn’t win the election,” Verney says. “The other two parties want those voters to come support them, so they try to adopt your issues and co-op your voters.”