Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is the first to admit that even after months of campaigning, hardly anyone has heard of him. And that's the very reason he refuses to drop out in his run for president.
Confused? Here's the logic: Johnson, a libertarian-leaning candidate, always comes in at or near the bottom spot in the polls. But he contends that his lack of name recognition is a sign that he's doing better than say, well-known former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who doesn't poll much higher.
"Statistically speaking, I'm in last place, but I'm also the least-known candidate by a long shot also," Johnson told a group of bloggers on Tuesday. "So, when you're 100 percent known by all of the Republican party, and you're polling at 1 percent, I think you should consider getting out. When your name is known by less than 20 percent of the Republican Party and you're polling in that vicinity, I don't know, I think that suggests that you got a ways to go."
Of course, not all presidential candidates are created equal. While some actually plan to sit in the Oval Office, others run to promote themselves or to sell books. But then there are the issue candidates: The ones who know their chances for victory are slim, but see a presidential run as an opportunity to put their ideas on the national stage.
That's Johnson, whose vision for the country involves legal drugs, a military that rarely intervenes in other nations' affairs, the freedom for gay people to marry, legal abortions, low taxes and a federal government that generally leaves the states alone. He's a libertarian--but the traditional Republican coalition that unites big-government social conservatives and small-government free-market advocates has made it difficult for "liberty candidates" to gain meaningful momentum in the past. Ron Paul, however, mainstreamed many of these issues in 2008 and took 10 percent of the vote in Iowa.
Unlike most of his colleagues on the campaign trail, Johnson isn't spending resources trying to woo social conservatives. In fact, he's not even going to pretend to try. When fellow presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum signed a pledge to ban gay marriage, Johnson slammed them, and called the plan "offensive." His policy views on gay rights even put him to the left of some Democrats on the issue. As for next week's popular straw poll in Ames, Iowa--the Muscle Beach of social conservative politics, where Republican candidates are sure to peacock their commitment to family values--Johnson's intentionally sitting out.
"There are 13 candidates now in the Republican race. I think 12 of them are vying to split up the social conservative vote, and I'm not one of those," he said. "I think that's what's being contested in Iowa."
For him, the strategy is to stick it out longer than most of the others, until the GOP field dwindles to the last few candidates. The idea then, he explains, is to let the frontrunners battle it out among themselves, while he continues pitching his heterodox small-government-and-personal-freedom message.
"Having three candidates in the race--me being one of them, talking to California, I think that'll be quite the audience," he said.
But running a campaign obviously takes money, something Johnson has very little of. His most recent Federal Elections Commission report showed that Johnson only has about $6,000 in cash on hand, with more than $200,000 in debt. That's a long way from Paul, who has nearly $3 million on hand and is spending this week flying around Iowa on a private jet.
"We're raising enough money to where I'm in the race," Johnson insisted. "I dare say we've got expenses to match our revenue, where I'll be in it through the whole thing." He added that pumping his campaign with his own money to stay afloat was out of the question.
"I'm not the exit guy," he added. "If you're talking exit, you're thinking of somebody else."