The conventional political wisdom says that the entry of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, into the presidential race is bad news for former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, since the two will compete for similar voters in the Republican primary. However, a former Giuliani speechwriter and the staffers at High Times, the magazine devoted to marijuana, both agree that Johnson is the better choice between the two longshot libertarian Republicans.

Former Giuliani speechwriter John Avlon wrote that he believes that Johnson could win the presidency, while Paul, who is looking at a third presidential campaign, could not. Avlon acknowledges that Paul “has emerged as the most intellectually influential figure in the Republican Party.”

But Paul’s influence on the direction of the Republican Party “hasn’t yet translated to broad-based electoral appeal,” Avlon writes:

Despite enjoying the most enthusiastic supporters, he ultimately won 16 Republican delegates in the 2008 campaign with results like a fifth place showing in New Hampshire, despite a ideological enthusiastic hometown crowd of “Free Staters” who flooded the “Live Free or Die” state to exercise their libertarian beliefs. Nonetheless, there is still no shortage of enthusiasm or confidence among Ron Paul supporters—before the announcement of this exploratory committee, his fans on simply asked: “Ron Paul Can Win in 2012! But Will He Actually Run?”

Avlon concludes that the former two-term governor from New Mexico, Johnson, can actually do what Paul could not — win.

Johnson is a “proven vote getter with demonstrated crossover appeal, a self-made millionaire and iron-man competitor who supports marijuana legalization,” he argues, adding that Johnson left his state in good fiscal shape when he left office.

The marijuana legalization issue was on the mind of Joshua Green, a writer for The Atlantic, when he spoke to High Times magazine editors about the two candidates who support legalization of marijuana.

High Times senior editor Bobby Black told Green “that Gary Johnson is far more electable and not as easily marginalized as Ron Paul.”

And a small straw poll among the writers showed that Johnson had more support among the staffers who all support legalization of marijuana:

An hour later, Black shared the verdict: Johnson 9, Paul 1, Undecided 2. He added: “Out of 12 HT staffers polled, 9 would choose Gary Johnson over Ron Paul for the nomination and/or presidency. Two were undecided, and one chose Paul. Reasons given included that he was younger, more electable, even Kennedy-esque. Ron Paul was viewed by three staffers as a ‘nut,’ with one staffer even joking that if Paul was elected he’d be so scared that he’d get himself a bunker. Actually, the one person who chose Paul did so because he said he identified with him being a more radical, kooky candidate.”

The two will have a tough time winning the Republican primary, let alone the general election, even without two candidates splitting the libertarian wing of the Republican Party. But political watchers will keep an eye on whether Johnson, who was dubbed by many “the next Ron Paul” before Paul decided to look at another presidential run, can overtake the libertarian hero in the polls.

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