Barr Too Big for His Libertarian Britches
In snubbing Ron Paul, Libertarian presidential candidate Bob Barr may have lost his base
With the two lead presidential candidates in a statistical tie, third-party candidates could be the difference-maker this November. But the Libertarian Party of Texas, which plans to play a similar role in state races, is worried that its own presidential nominee has sunk that strategy with "Snubgate."
Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, and his Campaign for Liberty invited four third-party candidates – Libertarian Bob Barr, Green candidate Cynthia McKinney (both former members of Congress for Georgia), Constitution Party nominee Chuck Baldwin, and independent Ralph Nader – to a Sept. 10 meeting at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Combined, the four polled 4-8% all summer, and Paul proposed voters back any of them to break the two-party system. Barr, the only third-party name on the Texas ballot, no-showed and instead sent Paul a poorly received letter offering to let him replace Wayne Allyn Root as his running mate. Barr said in the letter that his interest was the Libertarian Party and its agenda, which he felt Paul shared, rather than being part of an amorphous third-party slate.
"I can say that [Barr] has been getting thrashed on Libertarian and Ron Paul blogs," said Libertarian Party of Texas Executive Director Wes Benedict. In some rapid bridge-mending, Benedict called Debbie Russell, Texas coordinator for Nader-Gonzalez 2008, and Green Party of Texas Co-Chair Kat Swift to apologize personally for Barr's perceived insult to their candidates. Russell (who, in the convivial realm of Texas third-party politics, served as campaign manager for Benedict's 2005 council run against Betty Dunkerley) contacted Nader for comment on Snubgate. He succinctly replied, "It always looks bad to have an empty chair."
But Benedict's biggest concern is that Barr has damaged party-building efforts. Running a bigger slate in state House races than either Republicans or Democrats, the LPT had hoped for enough presidential race trickle-down to cripple its targeted opponent – the state GOP. (Benedict previously said: "I just feel like the Republicans have been hypocritical for many years. Obama is what the Democrats say they are.") The thinking was that they could recruit veterans of Paul's "Revolution" campaign by stressing political principles over party allegiance. "There's a whole lot of overlap," said Benedict, "but [Paul] brought in a whole bunch of young people who hadn't been involved in Libertarian politics."
Now Benedict, who said he suspects most Libertarians regret Barr's action, worries that the personal snub to Paul may backfire. "I think [Barr] tried to seize a movement," Benedict said. "You need to do great things and earn people's respect, then you don't have to resort to tricks."