Libertarian Party convention draws record numbers

(AP) -- The deep unpopularity of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton has led to an unprecedented level of excitement at the Libertarian Party's presidential nominating convention in Orlando this year.

Libertarian officials said Friday as the four-day convention began that 985 delegates and 344 alternates were attending from all 50 states -- a record. Dues-paying members have increased by 30 percent since the beginning of the year, Libertarian officials said.

"There's a lot more energy. ... There's so much attention being given to the Libertarians," said former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who with running mate William Weld, the former Massachusetts governor, are considered front-runners for the nomination.

There are 18 declared Libertarian presidential candidates, including Johnson, who was the party's presidential nominee in 2012, and John McAfee, founder of the anti-computer-virus company that bore his name. Johnson earned about 1 percent of the popular vote in 2012 for the political party that champions limited government and individual freedom.

"There's so much excitement," said Austin Petersen, a presidential candidate from Missouri. "The Libertarians have never seen so many good, quality candidates. ... We've just never seen this much attention to our party, ever, before."

Not running for office, but mingling with the Libertarians were Iron Man, Frozen's Elsa, Mario Brothers characters and other costumed fanboys and fangirls who were attending a comic-book convention at the same resort and had to walk through the Libertarian exhibition hall. Also mixing with the Libertarians and the MegaCon fans were Florida judges, whose meetings at the resort brought a large presence of uniformed law enforcement officers.

Johnson doesn't have the fund-raising ability of Clinton or Trump, and he said he is instead relying on news media appearances to boost his name recognition in an effort to reach the necessary 15 percent threshold to qualify for the presidential debates this fall.

"I don't think there is any question that we will be at 15 percent if we are in the polls," Johnson said Friday. "That's really the key is getting in the polls."

Johnson hopes to appeal to supporters of Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, with whom he shares many positions on social issues, although not economic ones, he said Friday.

"Those same Bernie Sanders supporters ... are going to find themselves philosophically siding with me more than they do with Hillary Clinton," Johnson said. "When it comes to Bernie, we agree on so much, but when it comes to economics, we get to a 'T' in the road and he goes one way and I go the other."

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