With the world watching Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton slug it out until the brutal end on Nov. 8, two other presidential candidates are campaigning hard with an eye on 2020.
If Libertarian Gary Johnson and Jill Stein of the Green Party make it to 5 percent of the vote, they qualify for federal election funding and a line on the ballot across the country next time around. They’re betting that the country will be so dissatisfied with whomever wins that voters will finally usher in a third-party president.
Throughout the election cycle, most voters say they dislike both Trump and Clinton and will either be selecting the lesser of two evils or lodging a protest vote against the opposite candidate.
“I’m with the majority of Americans in that I’m disgusted with both these candidates and their parties,” Stein told the San Francisco Examiner. “These are two deadly choices that are both completely unacceptable, albeit for different reasons, and I wouldn’t feel safe with either one as commander in chief. This race to the bottom really highlights why we need to break free from this two-party trap while we still can.”
The closest a third party came to the White House in modern times was Independent Ross Perot in 1992. This year, Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders ran as a Democrat but failed to make the nomination.
Both Johnson and Stein are now polling under 5 percent. Johnson, who has a party with higher name recognition, has been up to 9 percent while Stein has stayed steady around 2 percent.
Libertarians and Greens both favor limited government with Green being the more liberal of the two.
With California solidly blue, the pair have had a difficult time getting a foothold here but it hasn’t stopped them from campaigning.
“For a third-party run, California is difficult and it’s very expensive,” said Joe Hunter, Johnson’s communications director. “We are doing the same in California that we’ve done nationally — very much focused on social media, millennials, Independents — all of whom are in abundance in California.”
To date, Johnson has raised $12.8 million to Stein’s $3.5 million. The funds have allowed Johnson to buy TV and radio ads in many swing states. His support is strongest in Colorado and the mountainous West.
Johnson has also garnered two celebrity endorsements: magician Penn Jillette, who appeared at events with Johnson in Las Vegas and Drew Carey, who held a fundraiser in Hollywood. In addition, Fox News correspondent John Stossel has been lobbying for Johnson.
“Libertarians don’t shift to fit the whims of the day, because we have core principles. One is: On most every issue, less government involvement is better,” Stossel wrote.
For Stein, actress Susan Sarandon — usually an outspoken Democrat — publicized her endorsement of the Green Party candidate in an open letter that ran in nationwide media. Sarandon was a Sanders supporter.
“Fear of Donald Trump is not enough for me to support Clinton, with her record of corruption,” Sarandon wrote. “Now that Trump is self-destructing, I feel that even those in swing states have the opportunity to vote their conscience.”
Dissatisfaction with Trump and Clinton has led to an historic first: Johnson is on the ballot in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, the first time a third party other than the Independents have accomplished this.
“The progress is incremental,” Hunter said. “Even a chink in the armor [of the two big parties] is really, really important. This will encourage other candidates to run in the future. We have millions of supporters across the nation.”
Despite the notion that California is sewn up for Clinton, Johnson supporter Mike Harris of Livermore spends more than a dozen hours a week campaigning. He’s also spent about $5,000 of his own money to buy more than 2,500 signs that usually last only a few days because they get stolen. He also went to Las Vegas to participate in a phone bank that drew 800 volunteers.
The insurance broker spends every day after work parked on a freeway overpass, standing on the bed of his Dodge pickup holding a large “Johnson Weld 2016” sign. He estimates that he can reach millions of voters that way.
“There’s corruption going on,” Harris said. “The pollsters call and say, ‘If you are going to vote today, is it for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?’ How is the Libertarian supposed to get in? No one is on the stage representing the independent voters.”
Stein couldn’t agree more.
“Actually, 57 percent of Americans want a new major party, but most of the corporate media seems dead set on denying that we have any choice but the same two parties that keep failing us,” she said.
Unable to get the same media attention as Trump or Clinton, Stein is relying on social media, word of mouth and daily email blasts. Stein’s messages offer her detailed solutions for fixing various problems in America such as the debt, pollution and civil rights.
She also has traveled to many of the presidential debates, protesting the fact that third parties aren’t allowed to participate. Stein finally got her shot last week when PBS aired a debate between herself and Johnson. The debate allowed her to speak to the masses, but Stein has done her best to interact with as many voters as she can.
She says most of them tell her the same thing.
“People are tearing their hair out over the two candidates that are being forced down their throats,” Stein said. “They are so grateful to hear someone talk about real issues, and answer real questions. People always tell me that if we could just get our message out to every voter, we could win.”
And if there’s any state that embraces issues important to Stein, it’s California, she said. The candidate has campaigned up and down the state.
“It’s exciting to see our largest state vote on critical issues like marijuana legalization and the death penalty,” Stein said. “Right now California seems to be moving towards a one-party system, which is not good for democracy at all. I’d urge Californians to keep pushing for ranked choice voting to break the blackout on political competition, and vote Green on Nov. 8 to help us build a viable party for people, planet and peace over profit.”