Roger Stone Jr. has been one of the most well-known, colorful and controversial political strategists in the country for more than 25 years.
The guy who actually has a tattoo of Richard Nixon on his back has defected from the Republican party — just like the presidential candidate he’s now advising, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson who’s the Libertarian Party nominee for the highest office in the land.Stone’s a walking soundbite machine and in an interview with Capitol Report New Mexico, he blasted away at President Obama and the likely GOP nominee, Mitt Romney.
“In presidential politics, you have to put forth a candidate who’s likeable,” Stone said at the Libertarian convention in Las Vegas on Saturday (May 5). “And let’s face it, Romney’s a stiff and Obama just oozes arrogance. But Gary Johnson’s far more likeable. He has enormous room to grow.”
Yet getting Johnson to make a dent in the upcoming presidential race is a big if.
After all, no Libertarian Party candidate has ever received more than a measly 1.1 percent of the vote nationally in prior presidential races and Johnson himself got shut out of all but two Republican presidential debates before he dropped out of the GOP race, renounced his Republican Party loyalty and registered as a Libertarian.
So what does Stone see in Johnson and what makes him think Johnson can have any impact in the race? Here’s Stone:
But politics is the art of the practical and it takes money to get a message out. Sure, Johnson was a two-term governor but he comes from a small state and his national name recognition is low. With the November election less than five months away, what’s the path forward?
“Well, I think the Internet changes things dramatically in politics,” Stone said. “People can get their news directly and I think that’s a tool to deliver the message.”
Johnson is already making a pitch to Ron Paul voters disaffected by a likely Romney nomination while on the financial side, the Johnson campaign hopes to announce soon that by obtaining the Libertarian nomination, it can be eligible to receive federal matching funds. Stone also talks about “some direct mail fundraising” to raise Johnson’t profile.
And then there’s the “15 percent strategy” that Johnson calls “pie in the sky” in which Johnson somehow manages to receive 15 percent approval in at least five national polls. Should he pull that off, Johnson can muscle his way onto the stage during the three presidential debates later this fall. The last third-party candidate to do that was Ross Perot, who had millions dollars of his own money to get his message out.
Johnson, who made his money founding, running and ultimately selling a construction business in Albuquerque, is no pauper but his wealth hardly compares to Perot’s.
Johnson recently polled in the 15 percent range in Public Policy Polling surveys in New Mexico and at 8 percent in Montana – something Johnson supporters like Stone point to as hopeful signs for a candidacy in its infancy. But on the other hand, New Mexico is Johnson’s home state — you’d expect him to post a decent number there — and Montana possesses just 3 votes in the Electoral College.
But having Stone around does give Johnson some credibility with the Washington political establishment.
After all, this is a guy who’s a veteran of eight national Republican presidential campaigns — his resumé includes starting out as a 19-year-old with Nixon, regional political director with Ronald Reagan, a senior advisor to Bob Dole in ’96 and running the California campaign for George H.W. Bush in ’88.
The lefty website, The Daily Beast, posted a story on Sunday (May 6) headlined “Don’t Forget Gary Johnson! How the Libertarian Could Shake Up 2012″ and mentioned and quoted Stone in its profile.
But the skepticism that Johnson can make much of an impact remains deep.
On Saturday (May 5), a Wall Street Journal piece declared that “Mr. Johnson is likely to be a sideshow in the presidential contest.”
And even if Johnson does get some traction, Republicans who desperately want to end Obama’s time in the White House worry that Johnson could end up stealing votes from Romney and allow Obama to sneak in should the election be razor-close.
“I think he will take votes from Mitt Romney,” Stone told us Saturday, “but he’ll also take votes from Barack Obama, from Democrats who don’t like the way he’s been running the country. In the end it becomes a wash … and a lot of voters who would come out for Gary Johnson probably wouldn’t have come out to vote at all. I think we’re getting new voters.”
For some background on Stone and his unconventional political history (plus the story behind the Nixon tattoo), click here.
And here’s the blog Stone writes: www.stonezone.com