The US Libertarian Party's presidential candidate said his candidacy encompasses "the best of what Republicans are supposed to be" in one of the few opportunities he's had to explain his candidacy to a broad audience.
"We are not isolationists. We are non-interventionists," Gary Johnson told viewers at a town hall meeting with running mate William Weld broadcast on CNN Wednedsay.
Johnson, 63, a former governor of the southwestern US state of New Mexico and a former Republican, was named the Libertarian Party's candidate in May, but he has received little attention from the media. Now that both major party conventions are over, interest in Johnson's campaign is starting to pick up.
It's been helped along by more and more Republicans turning away from their party's nominee, Donald Trump, and by the difficulty some Democrats and independents have had in embracing the other choice in the race, Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton.
The town hall appearance could give Johnson a boost in the polls, which he desperately needs in order to share an even bigger spotlight with Trump and Clinton.
If he receives at least 15 per cent voter support in five national public opinion polls before the first presidential debate in late September, he will be included in the debate alongside Trump and Clinton.
In a poll released Wednesday by Fox News, Johnson and Weld receive 12 per cent, while Clinton takes 44 per cent and Trump receives 35 per cent. Two other major polls conducted in July put Johnson at 9 per cent and 13 per cent.
These are all substantially higher than four years ago when as the Libertarian presidential candidate Johnson won 1 per cent of the national vote.
In the town hall meeting, which included questions from members of the audience, Johnson said if either Trump or Clinton were elected, "things will be more polarized than ever."
He and Weld, 71, a former governor of Massachusetts, spelled out their support for free trade and civil liberties, including equal rights for the LGBT community and the legalization of marijuana.
Johnson also used the event to step up criticism of Trump, with Johnson ridiculing his "make America great again" slogan.
"I don't think America has ever been better," Johnson said, calling Trump's proposals on immigration and counter-terrorism immoral.
Johnson and Weld also criticized Clinton as "beholden" to special interests, and said this is borne out by "huge amounts of money" that she and her husband, former president Bill Clinton, have earned in speaking fees. He also criticized pledges she made last week at her party's convention, saying they would only grow the size of government.
When an audience member asked Johnson about the Black Lives Matter movement, he said it had made him aware of the struggles of black Americans.
"My head's been in the sand on this," Johnson admitted. "I think we've all had our heads in the sand, and let's wake up. This discrimination does exist."
In another sign of growing interest in Johnson, a group of Republican congressional staffers for prominent party lawmakers announced Wednesday they had formed a political action committee backing him.
The committee's goals are "advancing liberty and fiscal conservatism through the Johnson-Weld ticket", the group said.
"We are Republicans. We believe in the core Republican ideals of fiscal conservatism, state sovereignty, and individual liberty," the group's statement said.
They say they cannot support Trump or Clinton on the grounds that neither sufficiently shares their philosophical principles.