Republican Gary Johnson, a former New Mexico governor, will make his first… (Brian Snyder / Reuters )
Gary Johnson is an avid triathlete, so he is no stranger to running far and hard. But that hasn't helped the libertarian former governor of New Mexico break out of the pack in his run for the GOP presidential nomination.
Johnson, 58, gets a chance to bask on the national stage Thursday night when he joins with other Republican aspirants in the Fox News/ Google debate. It will be Johnson's first shot at the kind of national publicity that helps fuel a candidate's dreams, but ironically, it will also pit him against Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who helped define the modern libertarian.
"We are obviously very pleased to have this opportunity to participate," Johnson said in a statement posted on his website. "I am bringing forward a voice to the debate that has gone largely unheard thus far, and I am convinced that a lot of voters are ready to listen. I'm promising to submit a balanced budget in 2013 and I am further pledging to veto any spending legislation that exceeds revenue."
Johnson is a self-made businessman who started a construction company that he helped grow into a multimillion-dollar enterprise. He served as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003, where he was known for using his veto to slash spending. He backs school vouchers, favors decriminalizing marijuana usage and is hard on crime and taxes.
The GOP has always had a wing that hews close to the libertarian view that small government, limited in goals and funding, was better than a large bureaucratic government that was present in civil society and individuals' lives. Johnson, a conservative Republican, in many ways is the heir to that tradition.
But also running for president is Paul, who spent years attacking central government institutions like the Federal Reserve. He backs less government, opposes debt and wants lowers taxes and less spending.
If Johnson is the heir, he has clearly inherited from Paul, who is the patriarch.
While Johnson has barely registered in single digits in most national polls, Paul is on the upswing, reaching 13% or better in many recent national polls. One of the subplots in the debate will be their interaction and who can hold on to the party's libertarian faction.