“Is this the craziest election that you’ve ever seen?” Johnson asked the crowd as he mounted the makeshift stage. “And how crazy is it? I’m going to be the next president of the United States.”
To pull off such an upset, Johnson must win libertarian-friendly states like New Hampshire, where he pulled only 5 percent support in the latest poll, conducted Aug. 10-12 by YouGov for CBS News. Hillary Clinton led with 45 percent to Trump’s 36 percent. Local political observers say Johnson can do better in New Hampshire, but only if he works to win over voters who are not already Libertarians.
“I feel like his ceiling in this state could be more than 15 percent,” Greg Moore, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said. “There are a lot of people who are disaffected by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.”
Reaching them is the challenge, as Wednesday’s rally demonstrated. The rally was promoted for more than a week among Libertarian and some Republican circles on Facebook. And the state’s largest newspaper, the New Hampshire Union Leader, plugged the rally that morning in an editorial that encouraged Granite Staters to give Johnson a chance. Yet the crowd was less than half the size of the one Trump drew during a rally announced only days before and held during work hours.
“His challenge is to actually reach out to those people and let them know there’s an alternative,” Moore said. “And that’s not done with just a one-day visit. That has to be done with a full-time commitment to put people on the ground and have them reach out to these disaffected people and reach out to people who lean libertarian already.”
Greg Smith, 26, of Epping, N.H., is one of those disaffected voters. He said he came to Concord to hear Johnson because he was dissatisfied with the major-party options. Johnson’s speech, he said, was “fantastic.”
“You know, I voted for Bernie in the primaries,” Smith said, referring to Socialist Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. “I’m registered as a Democrat currently but I’m going to be pulling that as soon as I get a chance to get down to the town hall.
Kaitlin Shanahan, 29, of Dover, said she also voted for Sanders and is considering Johnson.
“I hadn’t really known anything about him,” she said of Johnson. “I voted for Bernie somewhat hesitantly. But I’d also vote very hesitantly for Hillary. I haven’t quite made up my mind yet. It’s good to know there’s a third option. I think he has a lot of good ideas that if implemented correctly could be beneficial.”
Johnson and Weld repeatedly reminded the crowd that they were the alternative for those not satisfied with the major-party choices.
“Gary and I really are in a way making the world safe for alternate voices in addition to the monopoly parties in Washington,” Weld said.
The trouble, though will be reaching them. Through the end of July, the Johnson campaign had raised slightly less than $3 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings. That kind of money will not pay for a national TV advertising campaign.
The campaign would attempt to win New Hampshire, Weld said, by making repeat visits.
“They are really our kind of people,” he said of Granite Staters, “which is why you are going to see us here often between now and November eighth.”