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Johnson gets Libertarian nomination but still faces debate challenge

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File: Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson (Johnson campaign)

Former GOP Gov. Gary Johnson pulled an end run to get into the presidential elections by switching to the Libertarian Party and winning the party's nomination. But Johnson still faces the same challenge he had as a Republican -- trying to get to debate the top candidates.

The Commission on Presidential Debates tells Fox News a final determination will be made in early fall. But Johnson, the former New Mexico governor who supports gay marriage and the legalization of marijuana, appears to be facing long odds.

"We know what the challenges are," campaign spokesman Joe Hunter said Saturday. "To get the attention we believe we deserve, we have to stay relevant, say things that get people's attention."

Hunter said that like other third-party or second-tier candidates, Johnson has relied on the Internet to get out his message and on grassroots efforts, including a burgeoning unofficial campaign called Let Me Speak to get him into the debates.

Johnson, highlighting his outside-the-GOP-mainstream position, called out President Obama this week for supporting gay marriage, but saying it should remain a state issue.

"When the smoke clears, gay Americans will realize the president's words have gained them nothing," Johnson said in a blog post. "Millions of Americans in most states will continue to be denied true marriage equality. What is the President saying -- that he would eat a piece of cake at a gay wedding if the state the happy couple lives in allows it?"

Johnson was essentially shut out of the GOP debates for failing to garner even 1 percent of the popular vote – until an exception was made and he was allowed to participate in two debates cosponsored by Fox News.

The criteria of getting in the presidential debates is that a candidate must be constitutionally eligible, which means being a natural-born U.S. citizen who is at least 35 and has lived in the country for 14 years. The other two rules are the candidate must be on enough state ballots to "at least have a mathematical chance" of getting the majority of Electoral College votes, which would be a minimum 270, and have at least 15 percent of the popular vote.

Johnson appears to be on the ballot in all 50 states, but getting 15 percent of the vote appears unlikely.

A committee official said earlier this week that Gallup will take the average of five national polls to determine the percentages for candidates. The non-partisan group has in years past made the announcement in September.

"If we get in the debates, which we believe we can, the game changes entirely," Hunter said.

The debate schedule is Oct. 3 at the University of Denver, in Colorado; Oct. 16 at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y.; Oct. 22 at Lynn University, in Boca Raton, Fla.

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