Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr launched a Libertarian Party presidential bid Monday, saying voters are hungry for an alternative to the status quo who would dramatically cut the federal government.
His candidacy throws a wild card into the White House race that many believe could peel away votes from Republican Sen. John McCain given the candidates' similar positions on fiscal policy.
Barr, who has hired Ross Perot's former campaign manager, acknowledged that some Republicans have tried to discourage him from running. But he said he's getting in the race to win, not to play spoiler or to make a point.
"I've heard from Americans from all walks of life ... they want a choice," he said at a news conference in Washington. "They believe that America has more and better to offer than what the current political situation is serving up to us."
Barr first must win the Libertarian nomination at the party's national convention that begins May 22. Party officials consider him a front-runner thanks to the national profile he developed as a Georgia congressman from 1995 to 2003.
If he wins the White House, he said he would immediately freeze discretionary spending in Washington. He also would begin withdrawing troops from Iraq and consider slashing spending at federal agencies such as the departments of education and commerce — as well as at overseas military bases.
The former U.S. attorney also said he would strictly enforce immigration laws.
"This notion that government owes something to people just because they're here does not resonate with me," he said. "This is not a charity."
Barr, 59, quit the Republican Party two years ago, saying he had grown disillusioned with its failure to shrink government and its willingness to scale back civil liberties in fighting terrorism. He has been particularly critical of President Bush over the war in Iraq and says the administration is ignoring constitutional protections on due process and privacy.
While in Congress, he was a persistent critic of President Clinton and was among the first to press for impeaching the former president. He helped manage House Republicans' impeachment case before the Senate.
He lost his seat to fellow Republican Rep. John Linder in 2002 after a redistricting. He then opened a lobbying and public affairs firm with offices in Atlanta and outside Washington.
The 2004 Libertarian presidential candidate, Michael Badnarik, took less than 1 percent of the vote, placing fourth behind President Bush, Democrat John Kerry and Independent Ralph Nader.