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Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson fires up Las Vegas

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson held a high-energy rally Thursday in Las Vegas, where he continued to voice confidence that momentum will propel him to a spot alongside the major party candidates on the prime-time debate stage.

Johnson’s running mate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, introduced Johnson at the rally as the “next president of the United States,” to a buzzing crowd chanting, “Gary, Gary!”

Johnson, a two-term Republic governor of New Mexico, has made multiple stops in Las Vegas this summer. In Nevada and beyond, Johnson has noticed a “real uptick in recognition,” he said in an interview with the Review-Journal before the rally.

Johnson contended that many Americans are Libertarians without realizing it, characterizing the ideology as “keep government out of my bedroom and out of my pocketbook.”

Johnson told attendants that Libertarianism is about choice, noting he’s pro-gay marriage and believes abortions should be the decision of the affected women. He called the death penalty “flawed public policy” and favors legalizing marijuana.

In Nevada, “you have the chance to do it and you’re going to do it,” Johnson said of the November referendum that could legalize recreational marijuana for users over the age of 21.

The crowd was lively Thursday night leading up to the rally in The Foundry nightclub, as Johnson and Weld gave one-on-one interviews to media outlets at another venue within the SLS Las Vegas.

Attendants crowded onto the dance floor and milled around upper levels with cocktails, some waving blue and yellow signs that read “Our Best America Yet. You In?”

In order to share the stage with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump in the series of debates leading up to the Nov. 8 general election, Johnson must crack the 15 percent threshold in the polls.

The Commission on Presidential Debates announced this week that it will use polls from ABC-Washington Post, CBS-New York Times, CNN-Opinion Research Corporation, Fox News and NBC-Wall Street Journal to determine which candidates are eligible to take the stage for the presidential debates.

Some polls have placed Johnson at 8 or 9 percent, but the last CBS-New York Times and Fox News polls placed Johnson at 12 percent. While not far off from the required threshold, Johnson only has maybe a month to gain the necessary ground to be eligible to debate before the candidates receive formal invitations.

“We think we can do it organically” without any special consideration, Weld said of reaching 15 percent threshold.

Weld raised the possibility that even if they can’t reach the polling benchmark by the first debate, slated for Sept. 26, that if polling continues they could reach eligibility for a later debate. The last presidential debate is slated for Oct. 19 at UNLV.

Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesman Joe Brezny, who ran the Nevada campaign for Mitt Romney’s presidential bid four years ago, said Thursday that he’s supporting Johnson and Weld and noted of Republicans that he “watched some good people nominate the least electable person in mankind.”

Political advisor Juan Hernandez, who has worked with former Mexican President Vicente Fox, riled up the crowd Thursday with “Viva Gary!”

Hernandez said it’s “impossible” for him to vote for Trump because the GOP candidate has belittled immigrants, women and disabled people.

On the other hand, Hernandez contended the Democrats have been promising dignity for immigrants for eight years under President Barack Obama.

“He has been the great deporter instead of the great performer,” Hernandez said, adding he sees a Clinton presidency playing out the same way.

Johnson and Weld took questions from the crowd after making impassioned speeches Thursday.

Weld contended to cheers that the fiscal conservatism he and Johnson demonstrated in their gubernatorial tenures is just what’s needed in Washington D.C.

Johnson, meanwhile, pledged that if elected, he would present Congress with a balanced budget within the first 100 days of taking the White House.

Johnson ran on the Libertarian ticket in 2012 and garnered 1 percent of the popular vote, but there’s “zero comparison” from that to the energy of this campaign, he said.

Weld called the two “a real ticket” before Thursday’s rally.

Johnson and Weld, who was a federal prosecutor, are eager for a chance on the prime-time debate stage, they said.

“I’m a wild card, I really am,” Johnson said.

Contact Jamie Munks at jmunks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0340. Find @JamieMunksRJ on Twitter.

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