Colorado’s Lily Williams supports Libertarian presidential nominee Gary Johnson

Lily Tang Williams, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for U.S. Senate in Colorado, says she supports her party’s nominee for president, Gary Johnson, though she declined say whether she voted for him at the National Libertarian Convention this weekend.

“We decided to just keep our votes private,” she said in an interview. Williams and her husband were among 25 delegates Colorado sent to the convention, which was held in Orlando, Florida.

“Lots of Libertarians did not vote for him and did not vote for his running mate,” Williams says. “Even my husband and I don’t tell each other who we voted for.”

Johnson, who won with about 56 percent of the vote at the Libertarian convention, is a former Republican governor of New Mexico. He was the party’s nominee in 2012 when he picked up 1.2 million votes. But this year he “might be on the verge of becoming a household name,” according to the data journalism site FiveThirtyEight that has him pulling 10 percent of the vote against Clinton and Trump.

Williams says she would campaign for him if he comes to Colorado in 2016.

“I really trust Gary Johnson even though he might be not so satisfying to some other Libertarians who are big on principles,” she told The Colorado Independent. “But still, I would say he is 80 percent or more Libertarian … as a voter we have to accept the fact [that] you do not get perfect candidates.”

With a general election matchup between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump appearing ever more likely, the two widely disliked major party candidates might shake off more attention onto a third party challenger than in recent presidential elections.

In an interview prior to the Libertarian convention, Williams said she wasn’t endorsing anyone for president but pledged to get behind the Libertarian Party’s nominee once that candidate was chosen.

Members of Colorado’s Libertarian Party nominated Williams as their candidate in the big U.S. Senate race in March during their state convention in Colorado Springs.

A Chinese immigrant, Williams, 51, often talks about her former life under the Communist leader Mao Zedong and about her personal journey to freedom in America. Now a real estate investor who lives in Parker, she came to the United States when she was 24 with $100 in her pocket. She didn’t know English.

In China, “we had no freedoms,” she’s been telling Colorado audiences during her campaign for U.S. Senate. She often talks about being a “slave” in China without really knowing it until she came to America.

Over the weekend, she took that message to Orlando.

“I was a big hit,” she says. “I was on C-SPAN.”

As turmoil has engulfed the Republican U.S. Senate race in Colorado— three candidates had to sue their way onto the ballot— Williams has been able to pick up a sliver of mainstream media attention for her bid. In late April after The Colorado Independent reported on a group of El Paso County Republicans endorsing her over the five-man GOP field, the move drew a mention in newspaper coverage in the context of disorder in the GOP primary.

For her part, though, Williams hasn’t tried to capitalize on that dysfunction, and she doesn’t take the bait when asked about it.

“My message is such a nonpartisan message,” she says. “I tell people, don’t demonize Democrats, don’t demonize Republicans. … We needs to be united to take our country back.”

If elected to the U.S. Senate, Williams says she would try to abolish the Department of Education, curb crony capitalism and corporate welfare, and roll back the country’s mass surveillance programs.

“The root of the problem is big government and big business joining forces together against us, taxpayers, and we have no say in what they do behind the doors,” she says.

There are about 25,000 registered Libertarians in Colorado, making it the third largest political party in the state. The national Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 in Colorado Springs. A year later, the party’s first national convention was held in Denver.

Williams said she gave a speech in Orlando that was broadcast on national television. And she reminded those at the national convention about her state’s role in the party.

“I tell people our state, Colorado Springs, is the birth city, birth state of the Libertarian Party,” she says. “We’re a young party and we have not been given a chance to govern. And this year we really have momentum because the whole country’s people are pretty upset with [a] two-party monopoly and corruption [that] sold us out to special interests and corporate elites. And they’re just fed up. I think I have a shot because I have a compelling story to tell regular citizens that the number one principal I have is maximum freedom and limited government — because I have lived under tyranny, I’m scared. I fear for big government.”

Williams will be on the November ballot along with a Republican, a Green Party candidate, a write-in candidate, and incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in November.

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated how many people would be on the November ballot.