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Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson greeted by small crowd, big cheers at Politicon

Supporters of the Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson gather in Pasadena at the second annual Politicon event. Johnson was one of the conference's headliners.
Mary Plummer/KPCC
Supporters of the Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson gather in Pasadena at the second annual Politicon event. Johnson was one of the conference's headliners.

Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson told a small, but enthusiastic group this weekend that they may be looking at the next U.S. president given the upheaval of this year's campaign for the White House.

Speaking at the Politicon convention in Pasadena, the former Republican governor of New Mexico spoke in favor of policies that included legalizing marijuana, protecting women’s abortion rights and reducing government spending.

"Government tries to do too much, it tries to accomplish too much. When it does that, it taxes too much and that's money out of my pocket that I could be spending on my life," he said during the convention's opening speech on Saturday.

Johnson's chances of defeating the two presumptive nominees for the mainstream parties, Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, are virtually impossible given his third party status.

Johnson nonetheless drew cheers when he suggested it's not outside the realm of possibility. 

"Is this the craziest political election that you have ever seen in your life?" he asked. "And you know how crazy it is? You might be looking at the next president of the United States."

Jill Pyeatt of Monrovia showed up at the political convention to see Johnson. She said the main principle of Libertarians is a strong belief in small government.

"We don’t care who you sleep with, we don’t care who you fall in love with, we don’t even care what you smoke just don’t bother somebody else," she said. 

In California, Johnson was backed by about 18,000 voters, according to preliminary primary election results as of Saturday. By comparison, Clinton received more than 2.6 million votes and Trump received about 1.6 million. 

But Pyeatt, who is the Libertarian Party chairperson for the Pasadena group and a former Republican, said she’s seen more people signing up as Libertarians as they reject Clinton and Trump. 

"People seem to really be taking us seriously," she said. "I notice now people want to hear my take on something and they seem interested in what I have to say instead of just like laughing and [saying], 'Oh, she's crazy.'"

Tyler Trainer of Riverside sat near the front of the audience with a group of Johnson backers holding signs of support. 

"I think that he emphasizes more of a free approach to life in general," he said. "He comes at government with the approach of kind of getting it out of your life whenever it is not applicable or it's not efficient. So to me that is a very attractive offer."

Johnson would need to reach about 15 percent in the polls to make the presidential debates this fall. Recent polls have showed him polling nationally between 4 and 12 percent. 

Series: California Counts

California Counts is a collaboration of KPBS, KPCC, KQED and Capital Public Radio to report on the 2016 election. The coverage focuses on major issues and solicits diverse voices on what's important to the future of California.

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts on Twitter using the hashtag #CACounts.