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Gary Johnson is no longer a thing

Gary Johnson.
Gary Johnson.Jay Westcott/The News & Advance via AP

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There was a time when the Libertarian Party thought they could pull off something special this election. In presidential nominee Gary Johnson and running mate Bill Weld, the party probably had their most promising ticket ever. And Americans appeared hungry for another option beyond what the Democratic and Republican parties were offering: the most unpopular choices ever for president.

In July and August, Libertarians were optimistic that for the first time since 1992, a third-party nominee would make the debate stage.

But with less than two weeks before Election Day, we know two things about the Johnson-Weld ticket: They did not qualify for the debates, and what support they did have is fading toward irrelevance.

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In fact, if there is any non-major party candidate to watch these days, it is independent Evan McMullin, who is locked in a battle to win his home state of Utah. To compare, polls show Johnson losing his home state of New Mexico by 30 percentage points to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, despite the fact he served two terms there as governor.

On Tuesday, Weld, a former Massachusetts governor, used a solo press conference in Boston to blast Donald Trump -- declining to ask undecided voters to back Clinton but not exactly expressing enthusiastic support for his running mate either.

Polls tell the story of the slow flameout of Johnson’s campaign. In early September, Johnson was getting around 9.2 percent nationally. These are the polls the Commission on Presidential Debates used to make their decision about whether to include him, and he did not meet their 15 percent threshold.

Today those same polls show Johnson’s support has been cut in half. The latest ABC News/Washington Post national poll showed Johnson at just 5 percent. And the most recent CNN/ORC poll should make Johnson really cringe: He has just 3 percent support, down from 7 percent three weeks earlier.

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The highest level of support Johnson ever received in a national poll was 13 percent from Quinnipiac in September. The latest Quinnipiac poll now has him at 7 percent.

There are at least three reasons for his fade:

■ He didn’t qualify for the debates, and therefore some voters eliminated him as a serious option.

■ In polls, some respondents who said they supported Johnson were really just undecided about Trump and Clinton, and now they selected one of them.

■ Johnson’s struggle to answer basic questions about foreign policy may have given some voters pause at a time when they were just beginning to really learn about the candidate.

To be fair, should Johnson receive around 5 percent of the vote on Nov. 8, it would still be historically significant. Not only would it be double what Green Party candidate Ralph Nader received in 2000, but it would also be the largest vote total from a non-major party candidate since Ross Perot in 1992.

And in terms of building the Libertarian Party, it is significant that they gained ballot access in all 50 states.


Want the latest news on the presidential campaign, every weekday in your inbox? Sign up here for Ground Game. And check out more of the Boston Globe’s newsletters offerings here. James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.

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