CONCORD, N.H. – The Libertarian ticket of Gary Johnson and Bill Weld is embarking on the retail stage of its campaign, ratcheting up its public schedule in a bid to win enough public support to land in the presidential debates that start next month.
Johnson and Weld, former Republican governors, are also escalating criticism of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton over newly released e-mails detailing ties between her family’s charity foundation and her work as secretary of state.
“That’s the first time I’ve said ‘ouch,’ ” Weld told reporters Thursday before a rally at the New Hampshire State House. Weld noted he had previously defended Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server.
“It really stinks,” Johnson, the former New Mexico governor, said, referring to Clinton’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, giving paid speeches to groups that were doing business with the State Department.
At one point with reporters, after Johnson had finished criticizing Republican nominee Donald Trump by saying, “I could go on and on,” Weld responded, “I’ll go on,” and knocked Trump as a “New York social welfare liberal.”
Despite the steep odds, both men insist they are confident about their prospects but allow that, unless they qualify for the debates, they stand little chance. Weld, who governed Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, on Thursday floated a number of proposals to circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates’ requirement that presidential candidates draw at least a 15 percent average in five public polls.
The RealClearPolitics website’s average of polls over the last three weeks puts the ticket at 8.9 percent, significantly short of the benchmark. Weld, though, suggested to reporters and to those at the rally that the commission should consider other gauges, including candidates’ standing in swing-state polls.
He also pointed to a Quinnipiac University poll that showed 62 percent of respondents want Johnson to be part of the debates and to an outside commission’s recommendation that the threshold for the first debate should be 10 percent.
“I think we’ll get there organically, but I can’t resist pointing out the tax-exempt status of the commission,” Weld said during the media session.
The ticket plans to increase its travel and spending. This week, a pro-Johnson super PAC began airing ads.
Underneath a drizzling rain, Weld — introduced by his wife, Leslie Marshall — pitched his and Johnson’s embrace of limited government, lower taxes and spending, and a hands-off attitude toward social issues.
“We have no ambition short of running the table and winning the whole thing,” he said, drawing cheers.
He praised Johnson and promised that, if he wins, “There will be no more sanctimonious speeches out of the White House. There will be no more bullying and braggadocio out of the White House. There will be good government out of the White House.”
Johnson delivered a litany of Libertarian box-checkers, including an anti-death-penalty plank and a promise for a less interventionist foreign policy than one offered by either of the major parties.
“Is this the craziest election you’ve ever seen?” Johnson asked the crowd of several hundred people, many hoisting umbrellas or standing under trees to avoid the raindrops. “How crazy is it? I’m going to be the next president of the United States.”
Polls, and history, suggest that is unlikely. But Johnson supporters argue that the historic unpopularity of both Clinton and Trump and a clear public thirst for an outsider combine to give the Libertarian duo a puncher’s chance.
Johnson told reporters that the ticket had raised sufficient money — more than $2.9 million during the first half of August — “to advertise to the 70 percent of Americans who don’t even know who we are.”
Johnson and Weld stopped in Vermont on Wednesday and have visits to Lewiston, Maine, and Boston Common planned on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Weld has said he thinks the Northeast and Mountain West could be fertile regions for the Libertarians.
Chris Vlangas, a Goffstown development director for a foundation, attended the rally and said he planned to vote for Johnson, after voting for Republican Mitt Romney four years ago. Vlangas said he liked Johnson’s message of being “fiscally responsible and socially inclusive.”
And, he said, he was optimistic about the ticket’s chances, reasoning that many people value those priorities. “There’s more of us than there are of them,” he said.
“I’m done picking the lesser of two evils,” Vlangas said he has told his friends. “Done it for a long time.”
Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @JOSreports.