Johnson confounds political reporters because his mix of positions doesn't correspond to their bipolar worldview, where everybody is either a free-spending, pro-civil-liberties, dovish liberal Democrat or a skinflint, lock-'em-up, hawkish conservative Republican.
Johnson is actually much closer to the mainstream of American voters than he is to the fringes. Poll after poll shows growing numbers of Americans are socially liberal and fiscally conservative. "I don't think either major party embraces those values," says Johnson. "I'm running in the same political category as most people in this country."
They figured that out in New Mexico, where Johnson was governor from 1995 to 2003. Though the state is overwhelmingly Democratic, Johnson won a solid victory with his platform of cutting taxes and reining in spending. And in spite of facing a legislature that was two-thirds Democratic, he delivered, vetoing 750 bills and thousands of line-item expenditures. He easily won re-election, and when he left office, the state had a $1-billion budget surplus.
Jobs in New Mexico grew at a faster clip under Johnson than under any other former governor who ran for president this year -- five times faster than they did in Massachusetts when Romney was governor. But Johnson quickly corrects any suggestion that he "created" jobs.
"I didn't create a single job," he says. "The private sector did that. But I did create an environment where the private sector could flourish. And that's what I'll do as president."