Libertarian Party Holds Its Own Presidential Debate

Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson makes a point on October 23, 2012 in
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Around the country tonight – in Arlington, Virginia and Chicago, Dallas and Newport News, Madison and Indianapolis – voters will have the chance to watch yet another presidential debate.

The candidates on the dias will include multi-millionaires, someone born abroad on an American military base, self-made business men, a former Governor, someone under criminal investigation, people who have never run for office before, and a former FOX news employee.

That list sounds like it should be a description of either the Democratic or the Republican candidates. But it’s not. Tonight is the first ever televised debate of the contenders for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination.

Three candidates – former two term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Internet entrepreneur John McAfee, and former FOX associate producer Austin Petersen – will appear tonight on FOX Business on John Stossel’s show, to be rebroadcast over the weekend on the FOX News channel.

Governor Johnson, 62, was the 2012 Libertarian presidential nominee and currently is on the board of a cannabis company. Johnson is part of a small but growing number of former Democrat and Republican elected officials who have switched to the Libertarian Party and sought its presidential nod, including former Republican Congressman Bob Barr, the Libertarian’s 2008 candidate, Democratic Senator Mike Gravel, and of course Republican Congressman Ron Paul, who took a hiatus from the GOP to be the Libertarian presidential candidate in 1988.

Johnson is a triathlete who has climbed most of the famous mountains of the world, and is currently suing the Presidential Debate Commission to have any candidate on all 50 state ballots included in the general election televised debates.

John McAfee, 70, is the creator of the McAfee anti-virus program and has never before run for office. His net worth immediately after he sold his company to Intel was as high as $100 million. McAfee, who was a resident of Belize for a few years until 2013, is a person of interest in a case where an American was shot in Latin America.

Austin Petersen, at 35, is the youngest person in any party seeking its nomination. Petersen worked in off Broadway theater after college, then worked at both the Libertarian Party’s national headquarters and the Atlas Foundation, a free market think tank, before working as an associate producer for the FOX show “Freedom Watch,” hosted by Judge Andrew Napolitano.

Almost 20 people, mainly local activists unknown outside their states, have been seeking the Libertarian nomination, most with little more than a Facebook page and a mailing list.  Libertarian Party affiliates have been hosting untelevised debates at state conventions for several months, often with a dozen of these candidates. The three front runners were selected for the Stossel show by voting on an Internet poll.

The two-hour debate will be aired in two parts, the first hour tonight.

At a taping of an earlier Stossel show this February, at the Students for Liberty conference, Stossel polled the audience by show of hands, on who they favored as a Libertarian nominee – and then, while the mike was off, opined that Gary Johnson is perhaps too relaxed and that Austin Petersen seemed more aggressive and had more energy.

Since tonight’s debate was taped on March 29, Petersen has been crowing on social media about his superior performance, so this may be another case where an upstart upsets a favored front runner. The Libertarians hope the potential inclusion in the general election debate of their nominee, once chosen, could repeat that pattern, as the Republican and Democrat Party coalitions show signs of cracking up.


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