Fed Up with Romney, Many 'Ron Paul Republicans' Backing Gary Johnson Instead
Many former Paul backers attended Johnson's event at UNH on Wednesday.
Gary Johnson returned to New Hampshire this week for the first time since December of 2011, when he bowed out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
A year ago, Johnson had trouble drawing a crowd, at times speaking to almost empty rooms despite the fact that he spent as much time in New Hampshire as any other candidate. On Wednesday, about 100 people came to the University of New Hampshire's Memorial Union Building to listen to Johnson speak and answer questions for over an hour.
"I've seen a 100 percent rise in attention," Johnson said.
So what's changed? For one, Johnson is now the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee. But perhaps more important, he's now getting a lot of support from New Hampshire's large contingent of "Ron Paul Republicans," many of them too disgusted by Mitt Romney and the way he's treated Paul to vote for the Republican nominee.
Many of those Paul supporters were at UNH on Wednesday to hear Johnson speak. They see him as a far better alternative than Romney or Barack Obama.
Some of those in attendance were former Paul supporters like Libertarian gubernatorial candidate John Babiarz, state representative candidate Kevin Kervick of Portsmouth, State Rep. Seth Cohn, R-Canterbury, and even former Ron Paul staffer Brian Early of Portsmouth.
Kervick, a Republican, publicly endorsed Johnson on Wednesday, saying he thinks the country is "broken," and he doesn't see the national Republican or Democratic parties doing anything to fix it. He said he still supports Republican candidates for governor and other state offices, but can't bring himself to endorse Romney.
"The way the Republican Party treated Ron Paul supporters, particularly at the convention, was despicable," Kervick said. "That was sort of the last straw for me."
Johnson State Director Hardy Macia, who was with Ron Paul in 2008, said the influx of Ron Paul supporters has breathed life into the Johnson campaign here in New Hampshire.
"Right after the RNC, we saw a big influx of supporters," Macia said. "They've been phone banking, doing sign waves – we have a lot more interest now."
UNH student Kurt Isaak of Londonderry said he was very disappointed with the way Paul supporters were treated by the RNC.
"I found out about Gary Johnson, and he pretty much matched everything I cared about," he said.
Cohn points out that Paul got more than 20 percent of the vote in this year's New Hampshire primary, and if most of them vote for Johnson, "that's a huge number for Gary."
Johnson embraced the many Ron Paul supporters in the room on Wednesday, even going so far as to declare that he's a Ron Paul supporter himself.
"You have two people saying the same thing," he said. "I feel good about the Ron Paul support."
Now Johnson, who is polling at about 5 percent nationally, just has to get the rest of the world to notice him. He said that's his goal over the next several weeks, pushing to be included in the presidential debates so that he can help spread the word about his campaign.
"It's really important that I be in the national debates. It is the way I can win this election," Johnson said. "People are desirous of voting for somebody as opposed to the lesser of two evils."