ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Former Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson is considering jumping into the race for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico, raising the profile of a race that Democrats seeking to capture the majority in Congress had seen as a safe seat.
Johnson consultant Ron Nielson told The Associated Press on Friday that the former governor is “strongly considering” running if Libertarian candidate Aubrey Dunn quits the race as expected.
“He is weighing it over right now,” Nielson said. “He doesn’t want to get into a race he can’t win.”
Aubrey Dunn’s son, attorney Blair Dunn, told the AP that his father was dropping out of the race and would release more details on Monday.
Libertarian Party of New Mexico Chair Chris Luchini said it was his understanding that Dunn was quitting and a new candidate would soon emerge. He declined to say if Johnson would be a candidate.
If Johnson, 65, enters the race, he would go against Democratic incumbent Sen. Martin Heinrich and Republican Mick Rich in November.
Democrats had felt Heinrich would have an easy path to re-election in a state that went to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Rich, an Albuquerque contractor, is making his first run for elected office.
Marg Elliston, chair of the Democratic Party of New Mexico, dismissed the possibility of Johnson entering the race. “While Gary Johnson has been off pursuing the national spotlight and his personal ambitions, Martin Heinrich has been on the front lines fighting for New Mexicans,” Elliston said.
Johnson garnered 3 percent of the vote nationally in the 2016 presidential election against President Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. However, Johnson captured more than 9 percent of the vote in New Mexico — a state he led from 1995 to 2003.
During the presidential campaign, Johnson vowed to cut military spending, raising eyebrows in his home state, which relies on its three military bases to help offset its status as one of the poorest states in the nation.
As governor, Johnson was known for vetoing bill after bill before he became a national curiosity for advocating legalized marijuana.
He was nicknamed “Governor Veto” for 700-plus vetoes during his two terms in Santa Fe. Admirers liked his dedication to limiting the size of government. But detractors considered him narrow-minded and incurious about the outside world.
Johnson was born in North Dakota, but his father moved the family to New Mexico when the future governor was 13.
Raised by a school teacher and an accountant for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, Johnson founded a construction company while he was still at the University of New Mexico. The firm grew and became a major contractor on Intel’s chip factory in Albuquerque, making Johnson his fortune.