By Eli Watkins
ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) — Libertarians on Sunday selected former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson as their party’s presidential nominee, at their party convention in Orlando, Florida.
Johnson was the party’s nominee in 2012 and once again won the position despite backlash from the party’s more radical Libertarian wing.
In the first round of voting, Johnson reached 49.5 percent of the vote, according to the official party total, just shy of the majority needed for victory. His nearest opponents, Austin Petersen and John McAfee, reached 21 and 14 percent respectively. On the second round of voting, Johnson clinched the nomination with 55.8 percent of the vote. But his preferred choice for the vice-presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, also came up just short of 50 percent on the first round of balloting, leading to a second vote.
Thanking the Libertarian delegates after his victory, Johnson played up his general election chances.
“At a minimum, I think we’re in the presidential debates,” Johnson said to cheers.
Libertarian National Committee chair Nicholas Sarwark spoke to press following the nomination process, discussing the Libertarian Party’s outreach and fundraising efforts. Sarwark said the party had established a “back channel” to the Koch brothers, in the hopes the wealthy libertarian-leaning funders donate to the Libertarian Party. Sarwark also said he had been speaking to Matt Kibbe, former president of conservative advocacy group Freedomworks, about supporting the party’s nominee.
Johnson blasted the “rigged nature” of the general election debate process and repeatedly called for inclusion in more national polling surveys. Strong showings there would increase his chances of inclusion in the official presidential debates.
“This is another voice at the table,” Johnson said. “How about some skeptic at the table when it comes to these military interventions?”
Johnson received almost 1 percent of the general election vote in 2012, but said that in a year of unpopular offerings from the Democratic and Republican parties, he stands a chance of breaking through.
A recent national poll had Johnson receiving 10 percent of support from registered voters, drawing his strongest support from respondents under 35. Another national poll showed 44 percent of registered voters would want a third party to run against Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, and Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee.
The Libertarian Party is the only third party with ballot access in 50 states. This means Johnson will be the only alternative to Trump and Clinton available to all voters in this election.
When it came to Trump, Johnson got fired up and said the presumptive Republican nominee’s immigration policies are “just racist.”
Just before the nomination vote, Johnson said if he were to win the nomination, he would head to New York on Monday for media opportunities.
Johnson, who served as New Mexico governor as a Republican from 1995-2003, said too few people knew what a Libertarian is, and that his job is to change that.
In his acceptance speech, and speaking with reporters after, Johnson repeatedly urged delegates to vote for his Weld as his running mate. Many Libertarian activists are skeptical of Weld, arguing his 1991-97 tenure saw too much growth in government and new gun control measures. But Johnson argued that Weld is the most plausible running mate in appealing to a national electorate, and could help build momentum and fundraising power for the ticket.
CNN’s Ashley Killough contributed to this report.