3.29.2008

A contest for the... Liberatrian presidential nomination

Forget the Obama-Clinton showdown. Things are heating up in the Libertarian Party, whose convention will be held in... Denver (!) on May 22-26.

There has long been speculation that Ron Paul could run as a libertarian again after his first national run in 1988. But it is former Democratic Alaska Senator Mike Gravel who left his party this week to join the Libertarian Party. In a written statement, Gravel wrote, "I’m joining the Libertarian Party because it is a party that combines a commitment to freedom and peace that can’t be found in the two major parties that control the government and politics of America."

Gravel, who had been running for the Democratic nomination and participated in debates up until he was excluded the middle of the fall, was clearly dissatisfied with his party throughout his presidential run, as he vehemently denounced the frontrunners' hawkishness and rightist drift. He once again criticized the Democratic Party in an e-mail he sent out to his supporters this week:

The fact is, the Democratic Party today is no longer the party of FDR. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism — all of which I find anathema to my views.

Gravel might find it hard to convince libertarians that his support for big governmental programs like universal health care is reconcilable with his new party's principles. But there is some reason for Democrats to be slightly worried: The libertarian candidate can balance the Green candidate in most elections, in that both tend to take more votes from one party than the other. If Gravel ends up on the ballot as a libertarian, he could attract some left-leaning voters and double up the effect with no equivalent on the right.

Democrats would prefer that the libertarian presidential nomination go to another high-profile national figure: former Georgia Rep. Bob Barr, a major figure of the impeachment saga. Barr, who left the GOP to join the libertarian party a few months ago, welcomed Gravel into his new party declaring that, "Just as Senator Gravel believes Democrats have lost touch with the American public, I too concluded Republicans had lost their core principles, and could no longer associate myself with the GOP."

Atlanta's Journal-Constitution reports that Barr is taking a very hard look at the possibility of seeking the libertarian nod. He sought to present himself in the continuity of Ron Paul, calling his candidacy the "rallying point out there to harness that energy, that freedom in this election cycle.” Barr also attacked the "arrogance" of the Iraq War and called Bush's refusal to ban waterboarding ("sophistry of the worst and rankest order.")

It is hard to tell how Barr's candidacy would play out both in the party and in the general election. Could he create anything like the type of movement that drove Ron Paul? There clearly is a large voting base that is not satisfied with the Republican Party's direction, that disapproves of Bush and of his policies. That was also obvious from Ron Paul's high scores in many of the Republican contests. If the libertarian nominee is high-profile enough, it could give these voters a name to rally on in November (and give a headache to the GOP).

Naturally, the impact of a candidacy like Barr's on McCain (just like the impact of Nader on the Democrats) can usually only be measured in the margins and it is by default very unlikely that the basic equilibriums change between the two parties.

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