Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson's pilgrimage to Tampa to seek more small government, big liberty adherents and additional publicity is paying off, at least with a subset of November voters.
Johnson recently spoke at P.A.U.L. (now signifying People Awakening and Uniting for Liberty) Festival speaking directly to Ron Paul supporters about his vision and quest for the presidency in a bid to lure them to his side.
This came at the same time as torrents of bad news about Ron Paul's vestigial presidential bid rained on both his fan's parade and their festival. Nevertheless, despite the risky timing, Johnson's honest, kind and respectful demeanor appeared to leave more than a few people wondering why they were angry about his bid in the first place.
As Johnson regularly recounts, in 2008, Ron Paul asked for his support and he "readily gave it," speaking for him at an event in Minnesota. And when asked in the Republican debates that on state he would choose as his VP choice, he quickly stated "Dr Ron Paul."
Nevertheless, Ron Paul fans, and by all accounts, Ron Paul himself, did not appreciate competition for the hearts and minds of liberty voters. While Gary Johnson has been ebullient in his support for Ron Paul and entered the race believing he wasn't going to run, the reception from the Paul campaign has been nothing short of frigid.
Jesse Benton, Paul's campaign spokesman said early on that Paul would not back Johnson. While the largest reason for this is Paul's fealty to the GOP and his aspirations of a Rand Paul presidency, Paul was also apparently personally upset by Johnson's entrance into the race. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that Johnson has taken this in the same gentlemanly fashion Ron Paul has accepted his lot within the GOP Convention. Better, in fact. And that showed in his effusive pro-Ron Paul P.A.U.L. Fest speech and follow up internet advertisement that does nothing but pay homage to Paul.
There is no doubt that the GOP's tepid embrace of a few token Ron Paul planks while simultaneously denying him his last opportunity to speak has a sitting Congressman is not sitting well with his supporters.
Mitt Romney remains as unpopular as ever with Paul fans, and his choice of Paul Ryan (fiscally conservative in speech, neo-con in deed) didn't have the desired effect of wooing liberty voters. Anecdotal evidence from the internet shows that many Paul fans are taking serious turns from their former direction.
While Romney, let alone Obama, was never a serious option, his official nomination and Paul's impending retirement has forced the liberty movement to take a hard, unwanted look at the future. "Write In Ron Paul," a popular slogan, is deemed by many now to be a losing proposition, as it only earned him less than .04% of the vote in 2008 and Paul himself is not asking for the write-in votes.
That leaves sitting out the election (and they're too angry to do that) or voting third party. With the exception of Johnson, most third party candidates will have limited ballot access or compatibility, though Constitution Party candidate Virgil Goode will likely attract many Paul fans in his home state of Virginia.
While the Ron Paul websites are largely only representative of the hard-core fanatics, the news, while mixed in this microcosm, still bodes well for Johnson. A surprising number have announced they donated to Johnson's campaign within hours of Romney's nomination. Even more announced their intent to vote for him, many enthusiastically citing his P.A.U.L. Fest speech as turning them around.
Clearly not all are happy and many of the most ardent supporters are venting their frustrations in all directions, from Romney, to the GOP, to the media, to Ron Paul's campaign, to Johnson and even Ron Paul himself. Some have even labeled anyone who votes other than Ron Paul as traitors to the cause. No one is escaping the wrath of the most ardent believers.
Yet this is to be expected from those Ron Paul fans that are in the top 1-2% of his supporters and function as the apostles of his message. Overall, Johnson's Tampa fishing expedition appears to have gone extremely well and will likely get even larger gains from more numerous, but somewhat less hardcore Ron Paul supporters. A broadcast e-mail from the Johnson campaign states:
"When the media learned that Governor Johnson was in Tampa over the weekend, he didn’t have enough hours in the day to do all the interviews they requested. Why the attention? They had heard about Gov. Johnson’s reception at the P.A.U.L. Fest – and they were talking to Republican delegates who are saying Congressman Paul’s treatment at the convention is causing them to take a close look at Governor Gary Johnson."
The hastily arranged interviews included those with Fox, CNBC, Salon and U.S. News. To add to the fun, Neil Cavuto guest passed former-Republican Johnson into the convention for his interview. While Mitt Romney will no doubt get a temporary "convention bump," it is almost certain that Gary Johnson will also, and it may be quite a bit less temporary.