John McCain, Bob Barr and the spoiler effect

Despite rumblings that Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr could Ralph Nader Republicans this November, some political observers are saying not so fast.

John McCain waits to speak at a campaign event. (Photo/Jason Kosena)Similar to most third-party tickets in recent presidential elections, the former GOP congressman from Georgia has been labeled a long shot with no real chance of winning. But, much like Green Party candidate Ralph Nader — who some believe siphoned crucial votes from Democrat Al Gore in 2000, costing him the election — Barr could be seen as a spoiler for Republican Sen. John McCain this year in important swing states. And Colorado is one of them.

“If it’s a close race in states like Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada or Montana, it could have an impact,” said Patrick Davis, a Republican strategist who lives in Colorado Springs. “It’s worth looking at other third-party campaigns, like Ross Perot with the Reform Party who did very well in 1992 all up and down the Western Slope of the Rockies. Although possible, I don’t think Bob Barr has the personality of Ross Perot and I don’t think he will have enough resources to get his message out in order to really have an impact.”

The Ron Paul factor

One faction of the Republican Party that some GOP strategists believe could vote for Barr is the cult-like following of Texas doctor Republican Rep. Ron Paul.
Paul recently ended his campaign for the presidency after failing to win any primaries, despite a wildly successful online fundraising effort and a grassroots campaign that generated many supporters.
Paul, who ran for president on the Libertarian ticket in 1988, has pledged to support Republicans who lean Libertarian this year.
Saja Hinckley of Durango, a delegate who supported Ron Paul at the Republican state convention last month, said Barr could very well win her vote come November.
Saying she would support Mitt Romney for president, Hinckley called McCain a “wolf in sheep clothing” and a candidate that shouldn’t be in the Republican Party.
“It would be something that would go against all of my principles,” Hinckley said of voting for McCain. “His voting record is not something I can support. I vote with my heart and with people that are most closely aligned with what I am thinking — and that is not John McCain.”
The booing and otherwise bad treatment Ron Paul delegates received during the state convention from McCain supporters was “hateful,” Hinckley said, adding many other Ron Paul followers are talking about voting for Barr or for Constitution Party candidate Chuck Baldwin.
“With Bob Barr on the Libertarian ticket and Chuck Baldwin on the Constitution ticket, we are having a lot of contention,” she said.

The Barr factor

Barr’s campaign manager Russell Verney, however, is quick to correct anyone who implies a ballot cast for Barr is nothing more than an indirect vote for likely Democrat Sen. Barack Obama.

“John McCain is not entitled to any votes out there,” said Verney, who also served as Perot’s presidential campaign manager in 1992. “Bob Barr is about getting back to fiscal responsibility, shrinking the growth of the federal government and getting back to the Constitution. There are many people who agree with him and if John McCain can’t earn those votes, then it’s John McCain who lost those votes. You can’t take away votes from someone. You have to earn them.”

Despite Barr’s growing campaign and many media appearances on television news programs, his overall impact on the general election will most likely be small, said Scott Adler, an associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado.
“What kind of support is there in the electorate for a Bob Barr ticket?” Adler said. “My sense is the Ron Paul supporters are making a lot of noise, but I don’t know if they are representing a large enough number to make a difference.”

Research indicates a fair number of voters who feel close to a third-party candidate “can’t get themselves to pull the lever, or punch the ticket, or push the button” out of fear they are throwing their vote away, Adler said.

“Whether or not that will be the case with Barr is yet to be seen, but it’s something that has to be considered,” he said.

Long shot or not, Colorado Libertarians are excited about their presidential prospect this year and see his potential of having an impact in November as good.

“The national convention was here in Colorado and the state party is pushing Bob Barr quite hard,” said Colorado Libertarian Party Director Travis Nicks. “We are receiving much warmer support for Bob Barr than we have [for other candidates] in the past.”

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