Fox News has learned the former Governor of New Mexico will announce his candidacy, for President of the United States in late April. Johnson insiders say he will bypass the exploratory stage, announce his candidacy and immediately travel to New Hampshire sometime after tax day, April 15. Johnson is a strong supporter of legalizing marijuana and gay marriage. Strategists say his libertarian approach to GOP politics may prove very popular in the Granite State, whose motto is "Live Free or Die."
Johnson has not himself, and will not when asked, state his intention to seek the White House. He currently runs a non-profit organization and under FEC regulations cannot run for office at the same time. "I do have the fact that I'm a 501c (4), the Our America Initiative," the former Governor explains. "It allows me to raise money and speak out on the issues of the day, and of course I don't want to get sideways with that legal status."
When asked in a wide ranging interview with Fox News what he thinks is the most important issue facing America today, the answer is immediate, "I think it's the fact that we're bankrupt, that we're borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar that we're spending."
When asked what other issues he thinks are most important, the answer is pretty much the same. "I am in the camp that believes that we are on the verge of an imminent financial collapse. The only thing that government could do and should do in my opinion would be to balance the budget. That would really send an unbelievable message that we as Americans understand that you can't continue to spend more money than what you take in."
Johnson has traveled to more than 30 states and spoken to 500 groups in the last 15 months, and plans to visit Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, and South Carolina in coming weeks, all states crucial to anyone eyeing a White House run.
His background would seem to make him appealing to Americans worried about the nation's massive debt and what many view as out-of-control federal spending. As Governor of New Mexico from 1995-2003, Johnson held state spending in check, vetoing more than 750 pieces of legislation in his two terms of office.
"I served New Mexico for eight years doing that," he points out. "New Mexico is 2 to 1 Democrat. So I've gotten reelected in a state that's 2 to 1 Democrat vetoing as many bills as I did." Only two of those vetoes were overturned. Term limits kept Johnson from seeking a third term.
Johnson believes there is plenty of blame to go around for the nation's current financial situation. "Both parties share in this responsibility, the fact that the Republican Party controlled both houses of Congress and the Presidency eight years ago and passed the prescription and drug benefit. That's not why I signed up to be a Republican."
The lifelong Republican does believe the GOP is the only party that can fix America's financial problems. But, he believes the White House can only be won if the party becomes more inclusive. "If you take the 15 or so that may be out there as potentially running, I think for the most part most of them are saying the same thing about every single issue. I'm trying to grow the base; I'm trying to grow the Republican Party."
He does not see his stand on issues like marijuana legalization as detriments to a potential GOP nominee. "It's just one in a series of cost-benefits. What are we spending our money on and what are we getting for the money we're spending. Half of the money we're spending on the courts and law enforcement and prisons is drug related. And what are we getting for that? Well, we're arresting 1.8-million people a year in this country, which is just staggering when you considering the population of New Mexico is 1.8-million."
As for gay rights, "I support gay unions, and yeah, I think this country is first and foremost about liberty and freedom and the personal responsibility that goes along with that, and I can't imagine denying rights to gay couples that want to experience the American dream just like everybody else."
Having traveled the country and spoken to countless Republicans, Johnson believes he is not alone on these issues. "I'm under the belief that I might speak on behalf of 50% of Republicans. That's what I believe and I'm putting that to the test. This isn't lying on the couch theorizing about it, this is actually burning some shoe leather."
Johnson had no experience in politics when he ran for Governor of New Mexico. He says his appeal to Independents and cross-over Democrats was the key to his victories there. One can only speculate how much that appeal would help a GOP candidate for President in 2012.
Fox News Chief Political Correspondent Carl Cameron contributed to this report.