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Libertarian Nominee Gary Johnson Delivers Economic Speech In Detroit


Here is what Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson needs to do to get on the debate stage later this month with Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. He needs to draw an average of 15 percent support in major polls. So far he is short of that, but he is campaigning hard and hoping to catch up by appealing to voters who are turned off by the two major party candidates. Today he stopped in Detroit. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: Gary Johnson, the former Republican two-term governor of New Mexico, is anything but a traditional politician. He's climbed the tallest peaks on every continent, including Mount Everest. He has more than a nodding acquaintance with cannabis in the edible form. His political views, though, are right out of the Libertarian playbook. He made a firm promise to his audience today at the Detroit Economic Club.


GARY JOHNSON: With certainty, I will tell you that rules regulations will not get any worse. They'll get better. With certainty, taxes - I'll sign onto any proposal that simplifies taxes. I'll sign onto any proposal that reduces taxes.

NAYLOR: And while Johnson believes government should be limited in scope - he calls for the elimination of the Department of Education, for instance, and the closure of many military bases - he believes there are some rules it should perform. Take an issue of particular importance here, the lead contamination of the nearby city of Flint's water system.


JOHNSON: It's absolutely a situation that the government should be involved in. Government I think has a fundamental responsibility to protect us against those that would do us harm, in this case pollution. And I support the EPA.

NAYLOR: Johnson got more attention for his stumble in an interview last week when he couldn't identify the Syrian city of Aleppo. Then for just about anything else he's done in his campaign, Johnson says he fully expected to have a gaffe or what he called an Aleppo moment during the campaign but that it's important to be able to move on.


JOHNSON: There's no excuse for having spaced on Aleppo, somehow thinking it was an acronym. But such is life. And I think also that it's indicative of all of our lives. I mean all of our lives encompass mistakes, and it's really how we deal with mistakes that ultimately determine success.

NAYLOR: Alex Stevens, a student at Oakland University, came to see Johnson today and says he supports him because he talks about issues that are important to younger voters that the other two candidates don't.

ALEX STEVENS: Drug legalization or criminal justice reform - these type of things. I think the other two candidates are hesitant to talk about those things because they know it's kind of a touchy area for a lot of voters.

NAYLOR: James Hahn, who works for a Detroit bank, calls himself a lifelong Republican but can't support Trump and finds Johnson appealing, though he admits he's a long shot.

JAMES HAHN: He made a lot of good points, and unfortunately I don't think he has a chance. But I may very well vote for him nevertheless.

NAYLOR: And that is the kind of attitude Johnson says he needs if he's to have any chance in November.


JOHNSON: Nothing is going to change if you're voting for the lesser of two evils - nothing. The only way things are going to change is if you're voting for something different. And in this case I think we offer up different in a really big way. And different happens to be mainstream in this election.

NAYLOR: Johnson, by the way, says he intends to have his own physical exam tomorrow. The 63-year-old is a triathlete and promises if he does win, he'll be the fittest president to occupy the Oval Office. Brian Naylor, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.