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Libertarian candidate pounces on Paul's withdrawal

Minutes after U.S. Sen. Rand Paul announced he was suspending his campaign for the Republican nomination Wednesday, Gary Johnson urged Paul supporters to switch parties and vote for him.

Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico, was the 2012 presidential nominee for the Libertarian Party who received almost 1.3 million votes nationwide. He is a leading contender to represent the party again this year after its May nominating convention.

He announced in a statement that Paul was “the latest to find that there is no room for the Liberty Movement in today’s Republican nomination process” and told Paul supporters “there is no voice remaining to challenge failed military interventions, mass surveillance of Americans by their government, or [push for] real cuts in the size and cost of government.”

Johnson asserted that Paul’s departure “leaves a great many voters, especially among America’s youth, without a home in the two ‘major parties.’ To them I say, come be Libertarian with me.”

However, some of them may stick with the GOP. Before the Wednesday announcement, both Sen. Ted Cruz and billionaire New Hampshire front-runner Donald Trump had also made appeals to Paul supporters. AMI Newswire put the question to Johnson Wednesday: why should those voters back you instead?

“Neither Ted Cruz nor Donald Trump are even remotely libertarian. Sen. Cruz just won Iowa by appealing to social conservatives who would put the federal government squarely in American bedrooms, turn back marriage equality and 'carpet bomb' the Middle East. Donald Trump would ban immigrants on the basis of religion, impose anti-free market tariffs, and undoubtedly grow government,” Johnson told AMI.

“Yes,” Johnson admitted, “they are today running around pretending to be libertarian, but that will last only until the polls close in New Hampshire.”

One reason Paul supporters might back someone other than Johnson is that Johnson and Paul do not always line up on the issues. This Johnson readily admits. He blames some of that on GOP politicking.

“Sen. Paul ran into the Republican establishment buzz saw. I know how that feels. But the result, for him, was nuanced positions on, for example, marriage equality, drug policy, and immigration that, to me, are not nuanced,” said the gay marriage-supporting, and admitted pot smoking Johnson.

But there are also honest and wide differences of opinion that might affect who voters back. “Like his father” Ron Paul, Rand is “opposed to a woman's right to choose,” Johnson said.

The former governor didn’t want to leave the impression that he only picks nits with Paul. He praised the Kentucky senator’s “courage to advocate the basic principles of liberty, stand up to the surveillance lobby, and call for real reductions in the size and cost of government.” He also said he looks forward to Paul’s work in the Senate on behalf of “small government and greater freedom.”

As for his own party’s nomination, Johnson admitted that there are currently “a number of candidates” for the Libertarian Party, or LP. He declined to call out any out by name but says this will be no rubber stamp.

“I will have to earn the nomination. I expect the competition to be brisk at the nominating convention in May, but fully expect to prevail and carry the Liberty message for the LP,” Johnson said.

Whether he can convince a great number of Paul voters to buy into the messenger remains to be seen.