At CPAC, where he was almost shut out, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson seems to be enormously popular. The annual conservative confab in Washington is known as a testing ground for potential presidential candidates, and this year, it appears Johnson is passing with flying colors.
Surrounded by supporters hoping for a handshake and photo-op, The Daily Caller caught up with Johnson at CPAC on Thursday.
Johnson, who was given a last-minute speaking slot for Friday morning, didn’t rule out making an official announcement during his speech, but was circumspect about making a firm commitment due to tax and FEC issues with his 501(c)(4) organization, OUR America Initiative.
“I just think that there are probably going to be a lot of announcements by a lot of candidates,” said Johnson.
Hypothetically speaking, Johnson continued, “you’d just have to think that somebody that is serious would announce very soon.”
A source close to Johnson told TheDC that while he couldn’t say for sure whether Johnson would make a CPAC announcement, “Gary has surprised me before.”
“This could be a card being held very close to his chest,” the source added.
Regardless of when he officially announces his candidacy – the “libertarian in disguise” was thrown a curve ball last week when Republican congressman and former presidential candidate Ron Paul announced he was considering a 2012 bid.
Johnson, who would be a natural to tap into Paul’s base, shrugged off any concerns over sharing the limelight with Paul, saying the congressman “still has his heyday today.”
“First of all, having a couple people talk about the same thing, I think, is really powerful. I mean, that’s a good thing!” he told TheDC.
When asked if he is in regular communication with Paul’s people, Johnson said, “no,” and congratulated Paul on “the awareness he’s brought about in this country.”
“I think concerns are offset by the fact that there is this awareness and having more than just one person talking about this says something to everybody else that ‘OK, it’s not just one guy saying it, it’s a couple that are saying it.’”
“He [Paul] still commands a lot of respect and a lot of attention,” Johnson added. “And that’s great. Terrific.”
Johnson, who advocates slashing the federal budget by 43 percent, had some blunt words for Republicans in Washington.
“Get some starch!” he said, referring to Republican struggles to cut spending. “I’d start with the big four.”
For Johnson, that means Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and defense. “It needs to be a trillion and a half dollars,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any kicking the can down the road anymore.”
That hard-line messaging is resonating with voters, especially in New Mexico, where Johnson was governor from 1995 to 2003. A recent statewide poll showed Johnson is the New Mexico GOP favorite to challenge President Obama. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came in second.
That said, voters nationwide could expect Johnson to officially put his hat in the ring “very soon”.