Hmmm: Rand Paul endorses Libertarian over Republican in NM

It’s not as crazy as it sounds, but also likely not going to work. Rand Paul issued a last-minute endorsement to former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, who ran on the Libertarian ticket in 2016 against Donald Trump, for the Senate seat held by Democrat Martin Heinrich. The plan was to force out the Republican nominee before the ballot locked down for the November election, but …

Former New Mexico governor and current Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Gary Johnson picked up the endorsement of Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky on Tuesday in his effort to unseat an incumbent Democrat.

Paul shunned Republican nominee Mick Rich, an Albuquerque construction contractor and newcomer to politics, in favor of Johnson, who was elected governor of New Mexico twice as a Republican before running for president in 2012 and 2016 on the Libertarian ticket. …

“His leadership on issues of government overreach, protecting Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights against mass surveillance, and common sense foreign policy is sorely needed,” Paul said in the statement.

Johnson backers are pressuring Rich to drop out of the race in the interest of ousting Heinrich. Tuesday was the final day for candidates in New Mexico to withdraw their names from the general election ballot.

Rich, however, declined to cooperate with the plan despite trailing both Heinrich and Johnson in a recent poll from Emerson. Paul’s announcement didn’t leave much time for Rich to make a decision, which calls into question the tactics here, if not the strategy. Johnson announced for the race on Thursday, which would have allowed for at least a dark weekend of the soul for Rich. Shouldn’t they have given the GOP nominee at least a few days to consider his options?

The polling, though, shows why Paul felt comfortable stiffing his own party. Heinrich only gets 39% of the vote despite his status as an incumbent, far below the mid-40s level an incumbent has to get as a minimum to feel somewhat safe. He’s still far ahead of Johnson at 21%, but if Johnson got Rich’s 11%, he’d be in the ballpark. Plus, 30% of the sample still has yet to make up their mind with a little over two months to go. Undecideds swing hard against incumbents in most elections, especially this late in the game, and that would make for a nightmare scenario for Heinrich and Democrats, who wouldn’t have expected this seat to be part of their crisis management project this cycle.

Reason calls this “huge news,” and predicts more party-bridging endorsements for the “Liberty movement”:

In a surprising move that could have dramatic impact on third-party politics and Capitol Hill’s balance of power, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) today endorsed Libertarian Gary Johnson for the U.S. Senate over Republican nominee Mick Rich.

[T]oday’s announcement could mark a watershed moment in which the Republican Party’s once-ascendant, now-embattled “Liberty Movement” rump breaks ranks to make selective common cause with a competing political party that has “Libertarian” right there in the name. So who will be next to endorse? Watch this space.

Theoretically, maybe. In practical terms, almost certainly not. Johnson has a unique position in New Mexico politics, having served as its governor, and his own constituency. Other Libertarians will not have anywhere near that kind of draw. This is the one situation in which such a strategy could work.

As it is, though, Rich will likely split the anti-incumbent vote, which is exactly why this strategy by Paul made some sense, even if the tactical execution leaves something to be desired. Republicans might miss an unexpected opportunity in New Mexico, at least in reducing Democrats’ seat count in the Senate if not increasing their own. Paul did get a commitment from Johnson to caucus with the GOP if he wins, right? Right?