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Wisconsin Libertarians express hopes for Gary Johnson presidency

Chuck Quirmbach Wisconsin Public Radio Presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have unfavorable ratings of about 60 percent -- though Clinton still leads the contest in Wisconsin, according to the most recent Marquette Univers...

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Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson listens as his running mate vice presidential candidate Bill Weld speaks at a campaign rally in Boston, Mass., Aug. 27. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Chuck Quirmbach

Wisconsin Public Radio

Presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both have unfavorable ratings of about 60 percent - though Clinton still leads the contest in Wisconsin, according to the most recent Marquette University Law School poll. A few hundred voters unsatisfied with the major party contenders gathered to hear Libertarian Party hopeful Gary Johnson speak Thursday night at Serb Hall in Milwaukee.

Many in attendance said they want an alternative to Clinton, a Democrat, and Trump, a Republican. Standing near the back of the room, Greg Wolenski said he voted for Republican Mitt Romney four years ago, but he's not a Trump supporter.

"I don't believe he's fit to lead our country," Wolenski said. "He may not be bought out by special interests like Hillary is, but I don't think he has a real viewpoint on things."

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Wolenski said he's backing Johnson, in part because the former Republican governor of New Mexico promises to decriminalize marijuana, and allow stores to sell it. 

"I think that would be great for our tax base, and less people in prison, less police to be centered on that," Wolenski said. "Focus on more actual things to take care of than drug issues."  

Two friends, Matthew Joseph and Jamie Collins, seemed less interested in Johnson's liberal social views and more in his conservative fiscal policies. Joseph said he likes Johnson's record in New Mexico.

"Just the way he was able to drop the spending," Joseph said. "I was reading ... his page, his policy on vetoing things unless they were strictly necessary, leading to large savings. I feel like we could use more of that."

Collins, a 23-year-old college student, said financial decisions now will affect her future.

"Whatever happens in this election, my generation's going be the one who has to deal with it," Collins said. "So I like his plans for small government. I like the fact that he really doesn't want government involved in things it doesn't really need to be."

Johnson seemed to give his supporters what they wanted to hear, promising to get rid of the income and corporate tax while reducing military intervention overseas, decriminalizing marijuana and supporting immigration. He calls his political philosophy a six-lane highway. 

"The big six-lane highway down the middle is reflective of what most people in this country believe, fiscally conservative, small government, socially inclusive," Johnson said.

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Voter polls currently show most people aren't on Johnson's road, although he's doing better than Libertarians traditionally have in national contests. The Marquette survey has Johnson at 11 percent in Wisconsin, and even lower in national data.

Johnson told reporters Thursday night that he thinks he can get to the 15 percent national polling number that would allow him to be in the first presidential candidate debate, which he said is vital.

"You know, without being on the debate stage, there's no way to win the presidency," Johnson said. "It's estimated that the viewership for the first presidential debate is going to exceed that of the Super Bowl. You can't win the Super Bowl if you're not in it."

For longtime Libertarian Robert Gordon, who drove down from Green Bay to Milwaukee to listen to Johnson, seeing him at least in the debates would be a plus. 

"Ah, I hope so," Gordon said. "You know, he deserves to be heard, if nothing else."

More WPR news is available on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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