Gary Johnson, the energetic Libertarian Party candidate for president, came to Rapid City on Wednesday and attracted a crowd of more than 300 people who heard him share his hope that he can siphon South Dakota's few electoral votes away from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
During an appearance at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center on Wednesday night, Johnson told a room of 300 to 400 people that he is a positive and viable alternative to the major party candidates on election day on Nov. 8.
Johnson was introduced Wednesday by former state senator Stan Adelstein of Rapid City, who told those assembled that Johnson — born in Minot, N.D. — should be considered "one of us.”
Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico, is the only third-party candidate to appear on the presidential ballot in all 50 states, and is hoping to turn that to his advantage in South Dakota. “Potentially, we could win South Dakota,” Johnson said.
Though aggregated polls predict he may only pull in less than 1 percent of the nation’s electoral votes, and only 5.6 percent of the popular vote, an optimistic Johnson is soldiering on in the hope that he can convince a majority of the country that he is a viable and desirable candidate in the election.
“I’m always a glass-half-full kind of guy,” he said, flashing a boyish grin.
Once on stage, Johnson rolled through some of his key talking points. His statement supporting smaller government, the Second Amendment, and legalized marijuana all received hearty applause from the audience.
“I do support the Second Amendment, but I support all the amendments of the Constitution,” Johnson said. “And the Constitution limits the power of government."
He also sought to contrast himself with his opponents, both of whom he views as overly eager to engage in lengthy foreign wars and costly regime changes.
“We bombed seven Muslim countries last year, and we will bomb seven more unless I am president,” he said.
He also criticized Trump for his statements about immigrants.
“We are going to be on the wrong side of history if we build a fence across the border,” Johnson said.
Those who attended the Rapid City rally had varied views about Johnson.
Watching with his family, Ian Kellar, 29, of Rapid City, said he supports Johnson mainly because he doesn’t like the major party candidates.
“I like that he’s socially liberal, I like his stance on the Second Amendment,” Kellar said. “I like his foreign policy, or lack thereof.”
Samantha Denney, 28, just moved to Rapid City from Minneapolis a few days ago.
“I feel like we’ve been disenfranchised by the two party system since Citizens United,” Denney said of the court decision allowing more corporate funding of campaigns.
She supports Johnson in part because she believes he is the only candidate who would take serious action regarding college debt.
Nicole Preble, 47, remains undecided on her vote for president, and came to the Johnson rally to see if he offered anything better. “Honestly I’m amazed we’ve gotten to the place we’re in now. I think Donald Trump is an indication of how fed up the American people are.”
Republican state Rep. Lynn DiSanto of Rapid City was among a small group waving signs outside the Johnson rally, saying she supports Trump because he would run government like a business.
Asked about Trump's taped derogatory statements on women, DiSanto said: “I am more concerned about what Hillary Clinton is doing right now than what Donald Trump said 20 years ago.”
In the moments before taking the stage, Johnson said he supports the Dakota Access pipeline, but would have issues with it if government used eminent domain to seize property from local landowners.
The controversial $3.8 billion pipeline would pass beneath the Missouri River, a major water supply for South Dakota. Opponents who have encamped in opposition now number in the thousands from around the country.
For all his differences with the establishment candidates, Johnson finds some common ground with his opponents.
“I happen to agree with Hillary Clinton on her No. 1 issue in this election. I also agree with Donald Trump on his,” Johnson said, pausing for effect. “Don’t vote for Trump. Don’t vote for Hillary.”