Long before Gary Johnson was the Libertarian Party nominee for president and the guy who has "Aleppo moments," he was the governor of New Mexico — a two-term Republican one, in fact.
And despite his lack of traction in the national presidential race this year, apparently there's still some goodwill for him back home. A new poll from the Albuquerque Journal, in fact, shows him getting 24 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and he's within 11 points of the leader, Clinton.
That showing is similar to the 25 percent he took in a Washington Post-Survey Monkey online poll of the state early last month.
Those polls happen to be the only quality surveys we have of the state in recent months, and they both suggest Johnson is a real player. Nate Silver even entertained the idea that Johnson could win the state and hypothetically deadlock the Electoral College, with the House then selecting the new president.
That seems ... unlikely. As does Johnson winning the state in the first place (since third-party candidates tend to fade closer to Election Day). But the state where Johnson happens to have been governor also just happens to have been a swing state in relatively recent history; George W. Bush won it narrowly in 2004 after losing a nail-biter there in 2000. And the prospect of a guy like Johnson taking a quarter or even 15 percent of the vote certainly adds a variable in a state that had been a pretty safe Democratic hold in recent years.
That said, Clinton is still the favorite.
The Journal's new poll actually shows Trump and Clinton in a margin-of-error race, with Clinton at 35 percent and Trump at 31 percent.
The Post-Survey Monkey poll also had her ahead — but by a slightly wider margin, 37-29. That poll had Johnson generally performing better nationwide than other polling, but the new result in the Journal's poll seems to verify the idea that Johnson has some strength left over in the state that he ran from 1995 to 2003.
Those results have caused us to move the race to "lean Democratic" in our newly updated recent race ratings.
But here's the rub: Johnson appears to be drawing more from Clinton than from Trump. The Post-Survey Monkey had her up 14 points in a two-way race, while the Journal's poll showed her up 10 points (44-34) when it was just her and Trump.
A big reason is Hispanics. Johnson actually takes 31 percent of the state's Hispanics and cuts into what should be a very good group for Clinton. Clinton leads Trump just 40-18 among Hispanics in a state where President Obama won their votes by 36 points in 2012.
Given that voters tend to gravitate toward the two major-party nominees in the final weeks, it's entirely possible that voters who don't like Clinton or Trump and may remember Johnson fondly will begin to desert him as we get closer to Election Day. And if they do, those voters are more likely to go to Clinton and make this one a hold for Democrats.
But if those voters think Johnson actually has a chance of carrying their state and/or want to make a statement, maybe they stand by him? If so, all bets are off. Either way, it's worth keeping tabs on. More polls of New Mexico, please!