Bob Barr jumps in the presidential race

Libertarians looking to have a higher-profile candidate than they did in 2004 are rejoicing this week-end as former Congressman Bob Barr announced that he is forming a presidential explanatory committee. He made this announcement at a Libertarian conference in Kansas City, Missouri; it will take a few more weeks, naturally, for any formal declaration of candidacy, and then to see what Barr's chances are to get the Libertarian line on the ballot.

Bob Barr became a darling of conservatives in the 1990s for taking the lead in anti-Clinton efforts and particularly in becoming one of the main congressional figures pushing for the President's impeachment. Since he left office, he has served on the NRA and on the American Conservative Union Foundation.

Yet, the issues on which Barr has focused over the past few years should also endear him to left-leaning voters -- speaking out against torture, against the war, lobbied on behalf of the ACLU. Thus, there would clearly be some on the Left who will be attracted to his emphasis on civil liberties and his anti-war discourse. Just as Ron Paul drew some of his support from disenchanted Democrats (and reportedly former Kucinich supporters).

But there is little doubt that Barr would draw most of his supporters from voters who lean Republican in federal elections. Libertarians usually vote for the GOP when they cast a ballot for one of the major parties (there is a reason Ron Paul was running for the Republican nomination).

More importantly, the reason Bob Barr has a high profile and could make some waves in the coming months is his 1990s anti-Clinton agitation and his very conservative position on a number of issues that put him at odds with libertarians: He was a fierce defender of the War on Drugs, though he appears to have become a defender of medical marijuana since his libertarian conversion. It is from the Right that Barr will get the most votes, the most help and the most funds.

Bob Barr is primarily focused on explaining why the Republican Party has gone astray and abandoned its roots, and that his anti-war discourse is that of a disaffected conservative rather than an anti-Republican partisan. This is a language many Republicans will relate to after 8 years of the Bush Administration has some conservatives grumbling that he has abandoned them.

And that is a language that might appeal to some conservatives reluctant to support McCain, viewed as a heretic in some circles. Some oppose him because of his refusal to take the hard line on issues gay marriage and torture -- on which Barr agrees with him -- but most of the anti-McCain sentiment among conservatives rests on economic issues, his vote against cutting taxes and his sponsoring campaign finance. For voters who aren't sure if they could vote McCain because of stuff like this, Barr is a good protest vote.

Naturally, there is no reason as of now for McCain to worry. Third-party bids are not easy to get off the ground in the US and odds are always against a candidate managing to break into significant poll numbers. But Bob Barr has enough of a profile and enough good will that he is entitled to hope that he could make a strong run and peel away support from the Arizona Senator.

Former Alaska Senator (and former Democratic candidate) Mike Gravel is also considering pursuing the Libertarian party nod. As I explained last week, a Gravel candidacy could have different implications for general election dynamics.



  • Go, Barr, go!
    Run, Barr, run!

    By Blogger Mark, At 06 April, 2008 17:10  

  • Go, Barr, go!

    Go away!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 April, 2008 18:33  

  • This is wondeful news for Democrats, and supporters of Hillary Rodham Clinton, in particular. The fickle Obama supporter may be attracted to Bob Barr or Mike Gravel, which would enable Clinton to take the nomination and easily win the general election. How ironic that Barr's potential entry could work to secure Hillary Clinton's election. Payback's a bitch.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 April, 2008 18:37  

  • Er, what? Leaving aside your comments on "fickle Obama supporters" -- my understanding is that Libertarians select their nominee by convention, not by primary, so there's no reason for the Libertarian race to affect the Democratic primaries.

    Of course, this also means that while Barr and Gravel are the most "electable" LP candidates (in the sense that they have a shot at winning more than 1% of the vote), it's possible that neither will be the nominee, since both deviate significantly from LP doctrine. (Gravel favors Universal Healthcare, Barr I believe is still a social conservative.)

    By Anonymous Chicago Joe, At 06 April, 2008 18:52  

  • Barr is a nut job. So is Gravel. Barr believes that government is evil. Gravel believes that the government is evil only during time of war.

    The Libertarians are, in fact, nothing more than a bunch of nuts that love to spew out useless jabs at both parties. Guess what? If the Libs were ever in charge, they would increase spending in the same mold as the Dems and the GOP.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 06 April, 2008 21:22  

  • Again how is Barr running for the Libertarian nomination have anything to do with the Obama v. Clinton race? Nothing! Barr is anti-government, and who is going to vote for Gravel over Obama? Maybe 100 people, the hundred who voted from him in the primaries so far.

    Hillary has no chance at being the nominee, there are times when it is admirable to keep going on, and then there are times when folks look ridiculous, and that time is now.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 07 April, 2008 10:05  

  • anon: Barr is a former ultra-conservative republican and had a large role in the house in the Clinton impeachment proceedings in 1998.

    You are right, he will have nothing to do with the Clinton-Obama dogfight, but in the GE, should he get the libertarian nomination, and I think he has better chances than Gravel, then we will siphon off GOP votes, plain and simple, for the GOP hardcore voters who are still dissatisfied with McCain can easily vote their dissatisfaction with Barr. He may be the first third party candidate since Perot with large threat capability.

    An mark my words, as soon as he announces, Rasmussen and Co. will put out three-way polls to show his potential effect on a GE race.

    By Blogger Mark, At 10 April, 2008 10:56  

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