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Politics

Gary Johnson Doubles Down on New Hampshire

September 6, 2011 - 6:00pm

Despite buzz that he would seek the Libertarian Partys presidential nomination, former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico doubled down on his commitment this week to running for the Republican presidential nomination with a focus on New Hampshire, home of the first primary.

As I travel there, I see our message resonating more than anywhere else, Johnson wrote in an e-mail sent to supporters on Tuesday. Thats great news, because its no secret that New Hampshire is absolutely key to the nominating process. Just ask Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton.

Candidates who were previously obscure nationally can go to prominence overnight as a result of a good showing, and for that reason it is the linchpin in our strategy, Johnson continued. Right now, campaigning in New Hampshire reminds me a lot of when I first ran for governor in New Mexico. Slowly, but surely, retail politics pays off. I cant tell you how much I see my name recognition climbing there. The national press may not know it yet, but our momentum in the state is on a near-vertical ascent.

Johnson, a fiscal conservative and a libertarian who has opposed the drug war and American military operations overseas, has struggled in polls at the state and national levels -- including New Hampshire.

Ron Nielson, a strategist working for the Johnson campaign, argued in a memo that, with his low profile and limited fundraising base, the candidate needs to focus on retail politics in the Granite State.

Governor Johnson is not an establishment candidate and does not enjoy the same level of national recognition and financing as other candidates, Nielson wrote. He has never run for national office and, despite his unparalleled record as governor of New Mexico, he has not been previously placed in the national spotlight. This simple lack of recognition poses obvious challenges, including the reality that the national polls reported in the media at this stage of the campaign are largely the product of name recognition and the national exposure Gary has yet to gain.

Unlike most of the other candidates, Gary Johnson did not enter this race with an established fundraising network, Nielson added. We didnt have a database; we had a Rolodex. That reality clearly presents challenges, and demands a strategy based upon targeting resources and building a truly grassroots campaign.

Nielson noted that Johnson overcame poor polling when he ran for governor for the first time in 1994 and that retail politics proved decisive in propelling him to the Republican nomination and to winning the general election.

As the first in the nation primary state, New Hampshire presents an opportunity to deploy a very similar strategy, Nielson argued. It is a relatively small state where voters demand their candidates be real. It is a state where resources can be used very efficiently and very productively to convey Garys message, and it is a state which historically is not subject to domination or manipulation by special interests, the establishment, or those who place disproportionate emphasis on social issues as opposed to core Republican principles of small government, individual freedom and careful stewardship of managing the publics pocketbook. In short, New Hampshire is a level playing field on which Gary Johnson will compete very effectively if given the opportunity. New Hampshire is the place where we can create momentum.

Nielson added that any media focus garnered in New Hampshire would receive national attention. Johnson has failed to get much attention so far -- leading to him being shut out of the recent Republican debates and the Iowa straw poll held in Ames last month. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, whom Johnson endorsed in the 2008 primaries, has been fighting the former New Mexico governor for the libertarian vote in the Republican field.

Johnsons focus on winning the New Hampshire Republican primary could put to bed speculation that he intended to abandon the GOP to run for the Libertarian Party nomination, the way former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia did in 2008 and Paul did in 1988. Noted libertarian pundit Lew Rockwell posted on his blog last week that a Libertarian Party leader told him that the Johnson camp was reaching out to the third party.

Reach Kevin Derby at kderby@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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