Gary Johnson

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson chats with members of the audience before taping an interview with "American Forum" at the University of Virginia's Miller Center in Charlottesville, Va., on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson chats with members of the audience before taping an interview with “American Forum” at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center in Charlottesville, Va., on Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

By Marissa Payne | marissa-payne@uiowa.edu

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson has billed himself as a “breath of fresh air” in a 2016 presidential election characterized by discontent with the two-party system.

A self-described entrepreneur, Johnson built his political career from the ground up with no more than a degree in political science, but no additional experience in politics. He became a businessman-turned-politician when he ran for governor of New Mexico and won in 1995, leading the state until 2003. 

Gary Johnson Age: 63 Hometown: Minot, ND Education: University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Family: Engaged to Kate Prusack

Gary Johnson
Age: 63
Hometown: Minot, ND
Education: University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
Family: Engaged to Kate Prusack

In the 2012 election, Johnson ran as a Republican Party presidential candidate. He decided to run as a Libertarian candidate in January that year, however, after receiving little support from the GOP. After becoming a Libertarian presidential candidate, Johnson gained the highest number of votes in his party’s history, making him the party’s 2012 presidential nominee.

Despite the widespread support from his party, Johnson lost the 2012 election to President Barack Obama, but he expressed interest in running for president again four years later. He stayed true to his political aspirations and announced his candidacy again in January this year, and ultimately beat out his five competitors during the Libertarian National Convention with a majority of the vote.

But it’s not simply Johnson’s support among Libertarians that carried him through his candidacy. When Sen. Ted Cruz, a former GOP presidential candidate, suspended his campaign in May, Johnson was thrust into the national spotlight. With Cruz’s withdrawal from the race, Donald Trump had become the presumptive GOP nominee, positioning Johnson’s run for president as the vehicle for “Never Trump” Republicans to stop Trump from becoming president.

To push the odds even further in Johnson’s favor, some voters turned to Johnson when Hillary Clinton forced Sen. Bernie Sanders — who appealed to independent and youth voters — out of the running after she clinched the Democratic presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July.

Johnson’s appeal is not only a result of what some feel is a flawed two-party system. As the former governor of New Mexico, he cut taxes 14 times and balanced the budget, leaving the state with a billion-dollar surplus. Despite his fiscally conservative views, he remains socially liberal on issues such as abortion and LGBT rights.