Is Gary Johnson Running for TV or for President?

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In the most recent edition of the Ad Age Presidential Campaign Ad Scorecard, we noted that Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson is "spending on ads in key markets in an attempt to reach the national poll threshold (15%) needed to qualify for the presidential debates," the first of which is scheduled for Sept. 26.

Of course, he and his running mate Bill Weld will tell you that they're in it to win it, but in reality, with Gov. Johnson polling at around 10%, his campaign has lately taken on a somewhat meta approach: He's effectively campaigning to be allowed to debate. In other words, he's campaigning to be allowed to continue to campaign -- because if he can't take the stage at the debates, then his candidacy will amost certainly lose its modest momentum as the Trump vs. Clinton Show drowns out the Libertarian message.

In a web video titled "Good Points," released on YouTube on Labor Day, Team Johnson serves up soundbites from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; both men seem to suggest that the 15% threshold is unfair ("it's probably too high" is how Sen. Sanders puts it).

And a more polished ad released last Thursday, titled "A Real Debate," opens with a typographic message: "Why you want Gary to debate," followed by yet another level of meta: A man and a woman are shown watching a Johnson appearance on Fox News (on a laptop for some reason) in which he gives a decisive, forceful answer about the use of the military -- and the smiling couple cheers him on as a guitar-heavy soundtrack cranks up. The message is that Johnson is a fighter and the debates are going to be a lot more interesting if he gets to play.

The YouTube version of the ad includes this line in the description field: "Imagine this in the debates."

Meanwhile, a petition -- "Demand that Gov. Gary Johnson be included in the presidential debates!" -- is closing in on its impressive (if random) goal of 800,000 signatures.

Will the arbitrary arbiters of the Commission on Presidential Debates arbitrarily decide to waive their arbitrary 15%-polling requirement for Gary Johnson? Stay tuned!

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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