About 10,000 people came to the DCU Center in Worcester last November to see Donald Trump. Thursday night, at the same venue, it was a different kind of political rally and a much smaller crowd.
About 50 people turned out to hear from former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, who's now the vice presidential candidate for the Libertarian Party, running with Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico.
It felt a bit like a time warp: Weld campaigning again in Worcester, which he called "Weld-Cellucci country." Weld touted his accomplishments as governor, but also made the point that he's a proud Libertarian and always has been.
"When I was in office here as governor, I used to joke to the press corps in Boston when I would hold these press avails, I'd say, 'Welcome fellow Libertarians,' " Weld recalled. "And this produced very nervous laughter because they weren't sure that I was joking. In fact they didn't think I was joking, and I wasn't."
Weld says Libertarianism is consistent with his view of good government as "fiscally responsible and socially inclusive."
But his loyalty to the Libertarian ticket appeared less than solid when he seemed to suggest to The Boston Globe and other media outlets that between now and Election Day he would focus exclusively on attacking Donald Trump, and would welcome a role rebuilding the Republican Party after the election.
But Thursday night Weld sought to reaffirm his commitment to the ticket.
"Emissaries from both sides are very happy to plant stories with a gullible and all too willing press saying I'm about to renounce my candidacy and endorse Hillary Clinton just because somebody told me to," Weld said. "Does that sound like me by the way? No, because it's not."
The idea that Weld was drifting away from the Libertarian team was fueled in part by the shakiness of the man at the top of the ticket, Johnson, who in an interview last month appeared not to have heard of Aleppo, the war-ravaged city in Syria.
Then it happened again last week in New Hampshire, when Chris Matthews of MSNBC asked Johnson to name his favorite foreign leader — or any foreign leader — and Johnson was unable to come up with an answer.
Weld defended Johnson Thursday night as a smart and effective governor, even if he acknowledged with a wink that "TV quizzes are not his long suit." And Weld hit Trump much harder than Clinton, blasting his calls to rip up trade deals, encourage nuclear proliferation and round up and deport immigrants, as dangerous and divisive.
After the event, Weld disagreed with the suggestion that his attacks on Trump were meant to encourage voters to support Clinton.
"What I'm saying is that Americans this year feel like they're watching a horror movie and they can't change the channel — or a scary movie at least," Weld told reporters. "And the fact is they can change the channel, and the path right up the middle is Johnson and Weld. We're two, two-term Republican governors in Democratic states. We cut the budget and we're fiscally responsible and at the same time we're socially inclusive. We're the opposite of the Republican Party and Trump."
The Johnson-Weld ticket hasn’t been able to crack 15 percent in the polls, so they’ve been excluded from the presidential debates, frustrating their efforts to gain traction. They're averaging about 7 percent nationally, but according to the most recent WBUR poll, the Libertarians are the choice of 13 percent of likely voters in New Hampshire — including more than a quarter of young voters. They’re taking slightly more from Clinton than from Trump, so if the race tightens up, the Libertarians could affect the outcome.
Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, says Weld and Johnson are benefiting from a lack of enthusiasm for the two major party candidates.
“Unfavorable ratings for both Clinton and Trump, when you're looking at Johnson supporters, are very high. They don't really like either one of the candidates," Koczela explained.
That describes Jeff Lions, who came out to hear Weld in Worcester Thursday night. He’s a 29-year-old Navy veteran from Somerville who says he believes in the Libertarian vision.
"It’s all about just keeping to yourself and not telling other people what to do," Lions said. "It's about fiscal responsibility and trying to keep government out of your life and your choices and your decisions."
Lions said he doesn't feel like his vote would be wasted if he votes Libertarian. "Absolutely not," he said. "I think Trump and Clinton, they're just two of the most unlikable candidates in history and here we have two guys who have done great things in two different states and they’ve really brought people together.”
Weld says the Libertarian ticket is committed to ending what he calls “the two-party death spiral.” And he says the campaign is not “a fool’s errand.”
That may be so, but it remains a long shot, albeit a somewhat high-profile long shot, for the former Massachusetts governor.
This segment aired on October 7, 2016.