Gary Johnson won a historic consolation prize for the Libertarian Party by surpassing 5 percent of the popular vote in his home state of New Mexico.
Johnson, a popular former two-term governor, neared double digits among the state's voters Tuesday but fell short of the percentage needed nationally for his party to collect partial public funding. That option was not used in the past two presidential races in an era of unfettered political fundraising.
Still, he opened the door in New Mexico to major-party status, which provides publicly financed primary elections alongside Democrats and Republicans. Libertarians also must meet certain membership requirements to earn the status.
Johnson thanked a ballroom full of supporters in Albuquerque, saying they voted their conscience and stood up to the two-party system.
"There's a lot to celebrate. This is a celebration," he told the cheering crowd Tuesday night. "I think it is just the start of a really big movement, the Libertarian movement."
In his 2012 Libertarian bid for president, Johnson won 1,275,971 votes nationwide — just shy of 1 percent. In New Mexico that year, he won 3.55 percent of the popular vote.
He drew nearly triple that support this time, with more than 9 percent of the state vote and about 3 percent nationally.
Contributions to the Johnson campaign this year reached $11.2 million in late October, according to the Federal Election Commission. That's more money than Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie or former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley raised before dropping out of their primary contests.
Johnson was left off the presidential debate stage after his candidacy failed to attract 15 percent support in public polls. He was blunt Tuesday night, saying "that sucked" and that the two-party system is leaving the growing number of voters who choose to register as independents without a voice.
Shay Hill, a 49-year-old small-business owner, was among those working the phone banks for Johnson leading up to Election Day. She voted for him in 2012 and plans to again if he runs in 2020.
"I talk to people every single day when I'm calling, and people don't even know he's on the ballot," she said. "America is not even aware he's in all 50 states on all 50 ballots, you know, and that's just sad. Everyone says 'Well, what choice do we have? What choice do we have?' They do have another choice."
If the Libertarians were to earn major-party status in New Mexico with enough registered voters, there would be fewer signature requirements for future Libertarian candidates.
In New Mexico, the Green Party achieved major-party status in 1994 by securing 10 percent of the vote in a three-way governor's race won by Gary Johnson, then a Republican. He defeated incumbent Gov. Bruce King and was re-elected in 1998.
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