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Weld is optimistic after clinching Libertarian VP slot

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Former governor William Weld credited Gary Johnson with ensuring his nod as vice presidential nominee.The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

A day after eking out the nomination to be the Libertarian Party's vice presidential candidate, William F. Weld was feeling a bit giddy.

"It was a landslide," the former Massachusetts governor joked in a telephone interview on Monday afternoon as he boarded a plane in Orlando, where the long-struggling party held its political convention over the weekend.

Weld prevailed with little over 50 percent of the vote on the second ballot. On the first ballot, he led a field of five candidates but failed to capture a majority. The former Republican was booed and accused by one opponent of having "sold his soul to the GOP."


Weld's bruising victory came after he was compelled to pledge lifelong allegiance to his new party — twice — and with heavy lobbying by Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, who won the Libertarian nomination as the presidential candidate for a second time on Sunday.

"Gary pulled me through," Weld said Monday. "I would have never made it otherwise. I understand people's reticence."

Asked why he became a Libertarian, a decision he made only a few days before the convention, Weld said: "I think we represent a third way. We're different than the other two parties. We're fiscally the most conservative, and we're socially inclusive and tolerant, which is not really the platform of the Republican Party."

In past elections, the Libertarian Party has held little sway over the national electorate. Johnson, who ran for president as the Libertarian candidate in 2012, garnered about just 1 percent of the vote.

But with many Republicans uncomfortable with Donald Trump as their standard-bearer, Weld and others hope they will look to the Libertarians as an alternative.

Weld cited recent polls suggesting that his new party may do better this November. A Fox News poll this month, for example, found Johnson would win 10 percent of the national vote in a three-way race between Trump and Hillary Clinton, who's leading the race to be the Democratic Party's nominee.


"We believe in ourselves, and we believe our mix of policy positions appeals to about half the country," he said.

"But if we can't get into the presidential debates, it would be extraordinarily difficult to win."

Weld, 70, was a former federal prosecutor who served as governor from 1991 to 1997. He resigned after President Clinton nominated him to be ambassador to Mexico, but his nomination was blocked by then Republican Senator Jesse Helms, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Weld endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008 and had alienated Libertarians in New York in 2006, when he considered running for governor there. He had accepted the Libertarian endorsement and then dropped out of the race after losing the nomination for the Republican Party.

Weld, who most recently worked as a lobbyist and government affairs adviser at Mintz Levin in Boston, said the Libertarians' key to winning the election was polling well enough to be allowed into the debates.

The Commission on President Debates, a private firm, requires candidates to garner at least 15 percent support in an average of five selected national polls.

Weld called that threshold a Catch-22.

"That's fine, if the pollsters put us in the polls," he said.

Libertarian Party members handed out voting cards to the delegates at its convention in Orlando, Fla., Sunday.REUTERS

Weld said he and Johnson plan to campaign heavily in western and northeastern states, such as New Mexico and New Hampshire, both of which are swing states.


He declined to comment further on the party's strategy, though he said: "Being a spoiler is not a strategy."

Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group in Boston, said it wouldn't take much for the Libertarians to have a significant impact on the election.

"If they get what they're polling now, they would certainly have an impact," he said.

However, it remains unclear whether the Johnson-Weld ticket would benefit Republicans or Democrats. Koczela cited a recent poll he took in New Hampshire that found a third of the electorate firmly for Trump, a third strongly for Clinton, and a third who said they would prefer another candidate.

"Because both candidates are historically unpopular, there's a lot of space for a third party candidate that's never been there before," Koczela said.

But he said he expects the Libertarians would do more damage to Trump, as they would provide a slate for those Republicans who have been turned off by Trump's demagoguery.

Weld already has lobbed criticism at Trump, comparing his proposal to deport some 11 million undocumented immigrants to Nazi tactics.

Weld already has lobbed criticism at Trump, comparing his proposal to deport some 11 million undocumented immigrants to Nazi tactics. In a Globe interview earlier this month, he likened it to Kristallnacht, the 1938 pogrom against Jews.

Over the weekend, Trump dismissed the dig with one of his own directed at Weld.

"I don't talk about his alcoholism, so why would he talk about my foolishly perceived fascism?" he told the Times through a spokeswoman.


Asked by CNN on Monday to respond to Trump's statement, Weld said: "I'm just going to let that ride."

Before leaving Orlando, Weld said he expects the Libertarians' polling to increase. "I'd be surprised if we didn't get to 15 percent," he said.

Weld also reflected on the zaniness at the weekend convention, which included a large bearded man taking the stage to perform a striptease.

"I didn't think he had much style," he said. "I've seen better at [Harvard's] Hasty Pud-ding."

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.