Presidential race tightens in Georgia

ATLANTA -- One is a blunt-spoken former Georgia congressman who helped lead the drive to impeach President Clinton in 1998 and later became a strong advocate of civil liberties after the 9/11 attacks.

The other is a firebrand former Georgia congresswoman who filed articles of impeachment against President Bush and Vice President Cheney and later became an impassioned voice for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney are two longtime Georgians who are among the best known in a flock of independent candidates running for president this fall as an alternative to Republican candidate John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama.

Barr, 59, the Libertarian Party nominee, is on the ballot in Georgia and 45 other states and is working to get on in three others. He is running a campaign that rails against the financial policies of both Republicans and Democrats and the growth of the federal government. He opposes the proposed $700 billion rescue package for Wall Street and says the financial industry collapse should be investigated for fraud.

McKinney, 53, Georgia's first African American congresswoman and the nominee of the Green Party, is on the ballot in 31 states and the District of Columbia — though not in her home state. She advocates an immediate moratorium on home foreclosures and a full pullout of all military forces from Iraq.

Despite Barr's home-state roots, political analysts here say he is unlikely to have a major impact on the race between McCain and Obama for Georgia's 15 electoral votes.

Poor showings predicted

David Johnson, CEO of the public relations and public affairs agency Strategic Vision, doesn't expect Barr to exceed 3% on Nov. 4. "This race is very close," he says of the national campaign. "Republicans who might have basic difficulties with McCain, former Hillary (Rodham Clinton) supporters who might have basic difficulties with Obama, they're not going to waste a vote on a third-party candidate."

Some Georgians in Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park this week didn't know about any of the third-party candidates. "I wouldn't vote for any of them even if I could, but I'm glad they're on the ballot (in some states)," says Barb White, 52, a home health-care worker.

Roderick Smith, 55, a youth-development counselor, knows that Barr is on the Georgia ballot and says he would consider voting for him if he raised issues important to Smith: homelessness and access to higher education. "I think having a third-party candidate is good," Smith says. "It forces Republicans and Democrats to add issues to their platform that they would not otherwise have discussed."

McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate broke open what had been a close race throughout the summer, boosting him to a double-digit lead in Georgia. The race has since tightened. McCain led Obama by 6 percentage points in a poll released Sept. 30 by InsiderAdvantage, an Atlanta-based national polling and media firm.

"The Barr candidacy could begin to attract people if it looks like it will have some effect on the race (in Georgia)," says Matt Towery, CEO of InsiderAdvantage. "Anything over 4% would have an impact."

Don't bet on that happening, says Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University here. Black says Barr will affect the Georgia race only "minimally," if at all.

The last Democratic presidential nominee to carry Georgia was Bill Clinton in 1992. That year, independent Ross Perot won 13% of the vote here, and Clinton narrowly defeated President George H.W. Bush.

"Perot had lots of name recognition by 1992," Black says. "He was the most significant third-party candidate since George Wallace (in 1968). … He was really pulling a significant slice of the vote, and in Georgia it hurt George Bush."

Wallace won 13.5% of the vote nationally in 1968. In 1992, Perot used his vast personal fortune and easily understood economic charts to get nearly 19%.

No one should expect a repeat this year nationally, Black says. "Barr doesn't have any money. McKinney doesn't have any money," he says.

Early support often fades

Third-party candidates usually poll better early in a campaign when voters disgruntled by major-party candidates consider voting for them, says Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia. "But as you approach election day, it is obvious that either the Democrat or the Republican will be elected president," he says. "At that point, people do not want to throw away their vote."

Other third-party candidates this year include:

• Independent Ralph Nader, 74. He got 2.7% of the vote nationally in 2000 and 0.37% in 2004. Key issues include cutting the military budget and cracking down on what he calls corporate welfare. Nader is on the ballot in 45 states and the District of Columbia, says Richard Winger, a ballot-access expert.

• Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin, 56. The Florida pastor, author and talk show host wants to outlaw abortion, abolish the IRS and Federal Reserve, and "eviscerate" federal programs such as Social Security. He's on the ballot in 37 states.