May 22, 2008— -- As the Democratic race drags on, not one but two other parties have all but settled on their nominees. The presumptive Republican pick: Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. And the likely Libertarian choice: former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga.
The Libertarian Party gathers in Denver, Colo., Sunday to pick its candidate for the White House from among 14 contenders, and while the convention may not draw front-page coverage, the implications could be felt in the fall.
"Come November, Barr conceivably could be to John McCain what Ralph Nader was to Al Gore in 2000 — ruinous," wrote ABC News consultant and Newsweek columnist George Will in a recent commentary.
At a Libertarian forum in Washington, D.C. this week, Barr, perhaps best known for his role as a House floor manager during the Clinton impeachment trial, and two other Libertarians, author Wayne Allyn Root and former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, were introduced as the candidates who might just "Naderize" the Republicans in this year's general election.
Matt Welch, editor of the Libertarian magazine Reason, called this year "a Libertarian moment in the wake of the Ron Paul revolution."
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, declined the Libertarian Party nomination to continue to run in the Republican race.
He's surpassed one million votes and once raised more than $6 million in a single day by delivering a decidedly libertarian message, which includes being anti-war and favoring a drastically reduced federal government.
Despite McCain clinching the nomination months ago, Paul earned 15 percent of the vote in Oregon on Tuesday. Yet Paul's name won't be on the ballot in November, and Libertarians are hoping those votes will swing their way.
"The party leadership actually, I think, would like to spoil McCain," said David Weigel, an associate editor who covers politics for Reason. "Four years ago they were really pushing the idea that they would spoil it for Bush. The party leadership is going to get some attention by saying this."
Barr refuted the idea that his candidacy would "spoil" anyone, telling reporters, "I'm a contender, not a spoiler."
But the former Georgia Republican did acknowledge many of his votes would come from "Libertarian-leaning republicans" and "true conservative Republicans," as well as independents and first-time voters.
"We're not doing this to be a spoiler for anybody," said Libertarian Party chairman Bill Redpath, who then added, "I think that we don't mind being a spoiler."
The Libertarian Party expects to get its candidate on more than 45 ballots come November, and Barr's campaign manager, Russ Verney, has a background in making third-party waves — he was an adviser to Ross Perot during his presidential bids.
"We're going to certainly build on the fact that there's deep dissatisfaction with the current two-party system, there is deep dissatisfaction with the political party of the incumbent president. There is deep dissatisfaction among many Republicans, who otherwise might be of a Libertarian variety or a true conservative variety, with the Republican nominee — and we're going to unashamedly let them know that they have a home," Barr said.
Matthew Dowd, a former Republican strategist and ABC News consultant, isn't certain that the Libertarian message will hurt Republicans more than Democrats.
"To me, a big part of Ron Paul support has been driven by anti-war," Dowd said. "I don't think it's definitive who it would affect more, whether it would affect John McCain or Barack Obama."
Thus far, Sen. McCain has stayed mum on the issue.
When asked if the Republican nominee-to-be had contacted him about his candidacy, Barr said, "I don't know that John McCain really reaches out to people, and he certainly hasn't reached out to me."