Can Bob Barr become the next Ron Paul?
Mr. Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia who on Monday announced his candidacy for the Libertarian Party nomination, certainly hopes so. It is a prospect that could give Senator John McCain’s campaign fits, threatening to siphon critical Republican votes away from him in important battleground states.
The situation is purely speculative. But Mr. Barr is keeping close to the script that has had Mr. Paul, a Texas congressman, drawing votes long after Mr. McCain became the presumed Republican presidential nominee.
Mr. Barr is trying to tap into the fervent band of followers who were attracted to Mr. Paul online and donated generously to his campaign by hiring the same Internet firm that ran Mr. Paul’s Web site. And he is hoping to spread his message to those fans, by running online advertisements on their Web sites, proclaiming: “Advance liberty? Learn more about Bob Barr!”
Mr. Barr said Tuesday he believed Mr. Paul’s supporters should line up with him, based on the issues. “I can’t imagine that they would vote for or be supportive of any of the other candidates that are currently on the scene,” said Mr. Barr, who delivered a rousing introduction to Mr. Paul at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
“Our job is simply to motivate them to stay involved,” Mr. Barr said in a telephone interview, “and recognize that the very best opportunity they have to effect the kind of change they were hoping for by supporting Ron is to come out and vote for me.”
No lock for Libertarian nomination
Mr. Barr left Congress in 2002 after an eight-year stint and joined the Libertarian Party two years ago. To many Americans, he is known as an outspoken social conservative and as a vociferous critic of President Bill Clinton, serving as a floor manager for Mr. Clinton’s impeachment.
He has not yet secured his party’s nomination and faces another former presidential contender who is a strong opponent of the war in Iraq — Mike Gravel, the former senator from Alaska who sought the Democratic nomination this year — as well as a host of lesser-known candidates. But Mr. Barr is considered a strong contender when his party meets for its convention on May 22.
Still, Mr. Barr will likely have to reassure some of his fellow libertarians that he is one of them, given his stances in the past against, for example, medical marijuana, and on social issues, said David Boaz, executive vice president of the Cato Institute and a prominent voice in the libertarian movement.
Even if he captures the party’s nomination, Mr. Boaz and others have voiced doubts about whether Mr. Barr would be able to generate the same devotion as Mr. Paul, a prickly former obstetrician who was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 1988 but has declined its entreaties this time around.
“I think he’s going to have a problem,” Mr. Boaz said.
Will Paul support him?
Mr. Paul has not officially ended his campaign and has declined to endorse Mr. McCain. A spokesman said Tuesday that he had “no plans or intentions” to endorse Mr. Barr either, and some political analysts said Mr. Barr would need the endorsement to harness the enthusiasm of Mr. Paul’s supporters.
In the last presidential election, the Libertarian Party candidate received fewer than 400,000 votes. Still, the ultimate fear for Republicans is that Mr. Barr or some other third-party candidate might do to them what some say Ralph Nader, as the Green Party candidate, did to former Vice President Al Gore in Florida in 2000, stealing away just enough votes to make the difference in a close contest.
Mr. Barr said he believed the support was out there. But several political analysts said much depended on the blogosphere, which has yet to weigh in.
This article, , first appeared in Monday editions of .