Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bob Barr Is New Piece in Electoral Puzzle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bob Barr Is New Piece in Electoral Puzzle

Article excerpt

Newly minted presidential nominee Bob Barr of the Libertarian Party may not be a household name, but the former Republican congressman from Georgia has caught the attention of the GOP's most passionate wing: supporters of libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas.

Though Mr. Paul is still running for president as a Republican, and scoring a fair share of votes in the late primaries - he won 16 percent in Pennsylvania - Sen. John McCain of Arizona has locked up the Republican nomination. But in the fall, Senator McCain will need all the votes he can get. And if a significant number of Paul supporters coalesce around Mr. Barr, that could spell trouble for McCain.

But that's a big "if." At the party convention in Denver last weekend, Barr won the Libertarian nomination on the sixth ballot, amid deep divisions over the direction of the party. Libertarianism centers on a belief in small, unintrusive government and puts a premium on individual liberty. As a member of Congress, Barr was known for three things: helping manage the impeachment of President Clinton, the war on drugs, and opposition to gay rights.

"At least on those latter two, he's got to adjust his image," says David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato Institute in Washington. "He's started to do that, but if he's going to sound like a libertarian, then he's going to need to emphasize his opposition to the Iraq war."

Enter Ron Paul, and his vocal, generous supporters. Though national polls show only a small percentage of Republicans backing his candidacy, his fundraising has been prodigious, at more than $30 million. He maintains that he will take his nomination effort all the way to the Republican convention in Minneapolis-Saint Paul in September, but analysts believe the best he can get is a spot on the speakers' list - and, if he declines to help Barr in any way, perhaps even a prime-time speech.

So far, Paul has not spoken publicly about Barr's Libertarian nomination. And Paul's supporters are considering their options. "My heart will always be with Ron Paul, and I'll be fighting for him all the way to the National Convention," writes Frank Koch, a computer programmer from Columbus, Ohio, in an e-mail.

As for his vote in November, he adds: "I'm personally leaning toward the Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin, but a large percentage of Ron Paul supporters are currently looking at Bob Barr. …

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