Gary Johnson may be one endorsement away from accomplishing something no third-party candidate has done in close to 50 years — win a state in the U.S. presidential election.
The Libertarian candidate has been gaining steam in recent weeks as the front-running candidates have sunk in popularity. With widespread discontentment for both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many are seeing the former New Mexico governor as a viable option, especially in Utah.
As a traditionally Republican state, Utah was not expected to be in play for Hillary Clinton this election. Instead, Trump’s deep unpopularity in the state and the potential for an endorsement from Mitt Romney means it may actually be in play for Gary Johnson instead.
Johnson’s campaign has been courting Romney, the 2012 Republican candidate who has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump. Romney was the first major Republican to come out against Trump, and now Johnson has been trying to get Romney to endorse the Libertarian ticket instead, the Deseret News reported.
Johnson told CNN this week that he’s been in discussion with Romney to give him an official endorsement, saying that Romney was open to the idea.
“I think he’s considering the possibility of doing this,” Johnson said, “of actually endorsing the two of us.”
And Romney has publicly backed the idea as well, saying he had great respect for Johnson’s running mate, Bill Weld. Weld preceded Romney as governor of Massachusetts.
“If Bill Weld were at the top of the ticket, it would be very easy for me to vote for Bill Weld for president,” Romney told CNN last month. “So I’ll get to know Gary Johnson better and see if he’s someone who I could end up voting for. That’s something which I’ll evaluate over the coming weeks and months.”
Romney’s endorsement could help Gary Johnson win over a number of dissatisfied Republicans who are weary about voting for Donald Trump, and could help the Libertarian candidate reach the important 15 percent threshold in national polling. Candidates need to reach that mark in a group of five surveys picked by the bipartisan-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates in order to be included this fall’s presidential debates.
Johnson is polling highest among third-party candidates in the last 16 years, but still has a little way to go before reaching that mark. He is currently polling at close to 7 percent in four-way presidential polls compiled by Real Clear Politics.
Mitt Romney’s endorsement could do more for Gary Johnson than help get him on the debate stage. A series of shockingly close polls in Utah may mean that Romney’s endorsement would be enough to help Johnson actually win there in November, which would be the first state win for a third party since George Wallace in 1968.
A recent internal poll published in the Salt Lake City Tribune found a very right race in Utah, with Trump at 29 percent, Clinton at 27 percent, and Johnson at 26 percent. Political experts say Romney’s endorsement could turn enough Utah voters to his side to put Johnson over the top.
That will likely be the only state on Johnson’s radar for November, and it takes a special set of circumstances to put the state in his crosshairs. Utah has been a reliably Republican state, but its vote hinges on the large Mormon population there. As an active Mormon, Romney’s endorsement would carry a lot of weight for a voting bloc already very wary of Donald Trump.
Utah was among Trump’s worst states in the Republican primary, as experts noted that his attacks on immigration didn’t sit well with a religious group known for going on missions around the world and has a high acceptance of people from other cultures.
While it’s still early for national polling and not at all clear how Utah will shake out, Romney’s endorsement could well put Gary Johnson on the way to winning a state in November.
[Photo by John Raoux/AP Images]