A day after he learned he would be left out of the first presidential debate, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson called it “a rigged game” as he campaigned on his platform of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism in downtown Seattle.
Johnson, the former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico held a rally in a packed ballroom at the Seattle Sheraton hotel Saturday afternoon, followed by a fundraiser.
The visit comes a day after the Commission on Presidential Debates announced he did not qualify for the first presidential debate — a major blow to his campaign — after he failed to reach the required 15 percent polling threshold. Only Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump will take part in the Sept. 26 nationally televised debate.
“It’s a rigged game, man,” Johnson said in a news conference before the rally. “Democrats and Republicans make up the presidential debate commission, 15 percent is not the law. It’s Democrats and Republicans not wanting a Ross Perot on the stage again.”
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Johnson is polling at an average 8 percent nationally, the commission said, although he was as high as 16 percent in a Washington Post poll of Washington conducted in August.
Before the rally, hundreds of supporters in the ballroom chanted “Let Gary Debate.”
While Clinton is a heavy favorite in the state in November, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders won an overwhelming victory in Washington’s Democratic caucuses last spring.
Johnson acknowledged to reporters that he attracts a lot of Sanders supporters, but added that “it’s not a strategy.”
One of those Sanders supporters is Taylor Gonzales, a student at the University of Puget Sound who attended the Johnson rally Saturday. He was disappointed that Sanders had endorsed Clinton.
“Find the issue that polls the highest and just go there,” Gonzales said. “I just feel like that’s Hillary’s lifetime M.O.”
Johnson was joined in Seattle by his running mate, Bill Weld, a former Republican governor of Massachusetts, as well as by two local personalities — former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic and Drew Carey, comedian, actor and an owner of the Seattle Sounders.
The odds of a Johnson-Weld victory are long, but Weld wasn’t very interested in talking about which of the major party candidates he would prefer to see in the White House.
“We don’t want to argue against ourselves,” Weld said at the news conference. “You can tell I’ve reserved most of my negative comments for Mr. Trump.”
Wearing a Seahawks 12th Man jersey for the rally, Weld criticized Clinton for her support of military intervention in Libya and Syria, but had harsher criticism for Trump, calling his false claim that Clinton started the “birther” movement “a complete lie.”
“The two major candidates, but chiefly Mr. Trump, have succeeded in getting everyone’s teeth on edge,” Weld said. “Donald Trump seems to want to go out and make everybody feel bad about being an American.”
Johnson took the stage and immediately addressed a recent flub — when he asked “what is Aleppo?” in a recent television interview in reference to the Syrian city.
“I want to start out with an apology on this Aleppo gaffe,” Johnson said. “I care about these issues because I don’t want our men and service women maimed or killed.”
Johnson favors legalized marijuana, same-sex marriage and abortion rights. But he is fiscally conservative — he doesn’t believe there should be a national minimum wage, he wants to replace the income tax with a national sales tax and says he would submit a balanced budget.
“Fiscally conservative, socially inclusive, skeptical of military interventions, regime change, favoring free trade,” Johnson said of his agenda. “Always come down on the side of personal choice. Shouldn’t you and I be able to decide in our own lives?”
He opposes the death penalty and spoke about the racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system.
“All lives matter, but black lives matter and let me tell you why,” he told the crowd.
Johnson wants to abolish the federal departments of Education, Homeland Security, Commerce and Housing and Urban Development.
He wants an open policy on immigration, saying we should embrace anyone who wants to come here and work.
“And building a wall across the border is just nuts,” he said.
Johnson said that he would submit a balanced budget within his first 100 days in office, without raising taxes. That would require slashing about 20 percent of federal spending, a massive cut on a scale not seen since just after the end of World War II.
Johnson said he would look to block-grant Medicaid to the states, “devolve Medicare to the states,” means test and raise the retirement age on Social Security and shut down military bases across the nation and world.
“Can there be reform and can there still be a health-care safety net? Absolutely,” Johnson said.
Pressed by reporters on how he would cut so much, specifically from Medicaid, without taking away health care from people, Johnson was at a loss for specifics.
“Well if it means not having cellphones,” he said. “There’s things that can be done that, in my opinion, nobody’s without and you can still deliver those essential services.”
Unlike many Republicans, he says climate change is real and caused by humans, but is hesitant when asked if government has a role in fighting it. He said he’s not sure whether he would continue to carry out the Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama’s flagship proposal to cut carbon emissions from power plants.
The finalized Clean Power Plan was released more than a year ago, but Johnson said he didn’t know the “particulars” and couldn’t take a position on it.