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Libertarian Party Nominates Former Gov. Gary Johnson


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We'll start the program with some of this weekend's political news. In a few minutes, we'll hear about Donald Trump's speech to the veterans group that gathers in Washington, D.C. every Memorial Day, Rolling Thunder.

But first, we're going to turn to the Libertarian Party, which is holding its convention in Orlando, Fla. That party expects to have a presidential candidate on the ballot in all 50 states in November. And that candidate, for the second time, is former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. NPR's Scott Horsley is watching things at the convention in Orlando, and he's with us now. Hi, Scott. Thanks for coming.


MARTIN: So Johnson served two terms as the Republican governor of New Mexico. And he - probably because he was the nominee last time for the Libertarians, probably had more name recognition than any of the others vying for the nomination. But I understand it wasn't a cakewalk.

SCOTT HORSLEY: No, it wasn't. Johnson was running in a crowded field of six candidates. And the simple math there makes it hard to get over the 50 percent threshold. He fell just short on the first ballot this morning, and he made it over on the second. In his acceptance speech, Johnson promised he'll try to represent all the voices in the Libertarian Party.


GARY JOHNSON: Right now, leaving this convention, I think that millions of people are going to be trying to understand what it is to be a Libertarian. And it is going to be my voice describing that to the best of my ability. I realize the confidence that you've put in me to be that spokesperson, and I'm very, very grateful of that.


SCOTT HORSLEY: This, as you say, is Johnson's second try as the Libertarian nominee. And four years ago, he won just 1 percent of the popular vote. But the party thinks they have a better shot this time around.

MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end a couple of recent polls have shown him up around 10 percent. What do we attribute that to?

SCOTT HORSLEY: A lot of Republicans and Democrats are unhappy with the likely nominees in the two major parties. And so they're shopping around, and in some cases giving the Libertarian Party a second look. A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll found nearly half of all Americans say they would be willing to consider a third-party candidate this year. Now I should say polls at this stage often exaggerate support for third-party candidates. But Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton do have high unfavorable ratings, and that could create an opening for someone like Johnson.

MARTIN: You know, one of the other storylines this year, Scott, has been not just the unpopularity of the contenders in both the Republican and the Democratic parties, but also the divisions within those parties. And I just wondered, is the Libertarian Party any different this time around? Are they more unified than either of the other two?

SCOTT HORSLEY: Well, some Libertarian purists have been wary of Johnson. His ideology is tempered a bit by practical governing experience. In a debate last night, for example, Johnson defended the government's role in issuing driver's licenses, while some of the purists consider having to take a test to drive a car an infringement on their liberty. In between the two ballots today, some of those purists could be heard chanting anybody but Gary Johnson. Nevertheless, a majority of delegates here opted to give him the nomination.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Scott Horsley. He's joining us from the Libertarian convention in Orlando, Fla. Thanks, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.