Third party news: Ralph Nader works to get on the ballot, Bob Barr hits McCain

Every four years, third party candidates must first figure out just how many states they will be able to run in. That problem is only made more pressing when a candidate runs as an independent, forgoing the help (and a secured spot on the ballot of some states) of structured parties. That is the case of Ralph Nader this year. Just like four years ago, Nader is not running as the Green Party's candidate and has to collect signatures and file petitions.

As the memory of 2000 is more distant, it looks like Democrats are not as determined to make life difficult for Nader as they did in 2004. That year, Nader encountered countless numbers of challenges to his petitions, forcing him off the ballot in many states -- starting with Ohio and Pennsylvania. This year, there are much fewer challenges to Nader's efforts and the repeat candidate has been submitting a number of successful petitions, including in at least 2 states in which he had failed to qualify in 2004: Hawaii and Arizona. Nader also looks to have qualified to be on the ballot in Colorado -- where he got 1% in 2004 but 5% in 2000 -- and is talking up his success in Illinois.

Without the support of the Green Party and given that Democrats seem to be more enthused by their candidate than they were eight years ago, Ralph Nader is unlikely to draw the type of support he did in 2000 -- though the latest poll to include his name found him at 4%, compared to 2% for Bob Barr. But there is no doubt that Republicans are more worried by Barr's presence than Democrats are by Nader's.

Just as Nader is primarily aiming his fire at Obama, Barr is first and foremost hitting McCain, as both try to appeal respectively to disaffected liberals and conservatives. Speaking to the Washington Post, Barr blasted McCain on a host of issues, including the Iraq War and domestic policy, about which "Sen. McCain really has put forward nothing that would indicate he believes in dramatically shrinking the size and cost of the government." As Ron Paul's success in the GOP primaries indicated, there is a substantial number of voters who are uncomfortable with McCain's candidacy and who want an end to the Iraq War and a more explicit program of small government.

Barr's attempts to channel Ron Paul might not be entirely successful, but as long as he gives the Paulites and similarly disaffected conservatives somewhere to go other than McCain, he could end up boosting Obama's chances. And a new AP article sets the CW that many Republicans are worried enough about this to discuss it publicly -- with the specter raised that the GOP might to do Barr what Dems did to Nader, particularly in Pennsylvania. The AP also notes that Barr will be on the ballot for sure in 30 states, with petition drives being held in 20 others.

What particularly worries some Republicans is that Barr's support could be more localized than Nader's, and have a big impact in a select number of swing states. This includes Western states in which the Libertarian Party has often had a higher share of votes, and Georgia, a state that few people thought about as competitive a few months ago but that the Obama campaign is clearly determined to contest. The Insider Advantage poll of Georgia released late this week that showed McCain ahead by just 1% also found Bob Barr at a high 6%.

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