By JULIE BOSMAN
None of it bothers Bob Barr, the former Republican congressman from Georgia turned Libertarian Party candidate for president, who gleefully recounted what he says a group of Republicans told him at a recent meeting in Washington: Don’t run.
“ ‘Well, gee, you might take votes from Senator McCain,’ ” Mr. Barr said this week, mimicking one of the complainers, as he sat sipping Coca-Cola in his plush corner office, 12 stories above Atlanta. “They all said, ‘Look, we understand why you’re doing this. We agree with why you’re doing it. But please don’t do it.’ ”
But with the Libertarian nomination in hand, Mr. Barr hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ross Perot and Mr. Nader, whose third-party presidential bids wreaked general-election havoc.
For one, he is hoping to hitch his wagon to the enormous grass-roots movement behind Representative Ron Paul, the libertarian-minded Republican from Texas who recently abandoned his own presidential bid.
And with presidential elections increasingly boiling down to state-by-state battles for Electoral College votes, many political analysts think a Barr candidacy, no matter how marginal, could have some impact.
On the ballots in 30 states so far, Mr. Barr has the chance to be a spoiler for Mr. McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, in several states, among them Alaska, Colorado and Georgia. Mr. Barr’s campaign advisers also assert he has similar potential in other mountain states, New Hampshire, Ohio and other swing states.
The Republican Party and the McCain campaign have swatted away the Barr candidacy, but some Republicans are taking it seriously. If the early polls hold up, and Senator Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee, pours heavy resources into Georgia, that state could be up for grabs, said Senator Johnny Isakson, Republican of Georgia.
“If Barr got 8 percent, and you’ve got the higher African-American turnout from Barack Obama, then you’d have a significantly close race in the state,” Mr. Isakson said.
Yet Mr. Barr faces formidable obstacles. No Libertarian candidate has ever won more than 1 percent of the vote in a presidential election, and Mr. Barr is severely lacking in money, resources and name recognition. He has yet to lease a campaign headquarters, have a fund-raiser, tape a television advertisement or hold a campaign event.
Even those sympathetic to the party’s beliefs complain that it is prone to infighting, fundamentally more committed to principle than electoral action and seemingly incapable of raising money or organizing supporters.
And some of its own members are asking how they ended up with Mr. Barr, who at the Libertarian Party convention in Denver last month squeaked by with the nomination only after six raucous rounds of votes.
“There certainly are still those,” Mr. Barr said, switching to the third person, “that may view Bob Barr as somewhat of a Johnny-come-lately.”
While libertarian philosophy generally bows to the rights of the individual — and against government intervention — Representative Barr voted for the USA Patriot Act; voted to authorize the war in Iraq in 2002; led the impeachment charge against President Bill Clinton in 1998; and introduced the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996.
After joining the Libertarian Party two years ago, Mr. Barr declared his intention to run for the 2008 presidential nomination only 10 days before the party’s convention in May. (Mr. Barr is also remembered for an incident in 2002, while preparing a Senate bid on a gun-rights platform, when he accidentally fired an antique .38-caliber pistol during a fund-raiser, shattering a sliding glass door.)
But Mr. Barr has largely disavowed his record in Congress as a Republican, a turnaround his campaign manager, Russell Verney, sunnily referred to as “the journey that Bob went through.”
Now, on the war in Iraq, he advocates for a speedy and complete withdrawal of troops, with no permanent bases; on same-sex marriage, he believes that states should make their own laws; and on wiretaps without warrants, he is fiercely opposed, arguing that the bill that would legalize searches without warrants violates an individual’s constitutional rights.
Mr. Barr says he is running because he is fed up with what he calls years of Republicans turning their backs on the party’s fundamental values of tight spending and limited government. He is doing it with very little money; just over $300,000 has trickled into the campaign so far.
Mr. Verney, a political consultant based in Dallas who was introduced to Mr. Barr in April, was behind Mr. Perot’s self-financed third-party runs in 1992 and 1996.
“One of the blessings of the Perot campaign,” Mr. Verney said dryly, “was that you didn’t have to worry about the money part.”
Some of the money problems might be solved if Mr. Paul’s libertarian supporters coalesce behind Mr. Barr. But Mr. Paul’s followers, many of whom were inspired by his passionate opposition to the war, might not be so quick to transfer their allegiance to a candidate who initially supported it.
Mr. Paul has pointedly declined to endorse his former Congressional colleague. Some of Mr. Paul’s former campaign staff members and other supporters have said privately that they resent Mr. Barr’s efforts to co-opt their constituency. Near the top of their list of complaints is Mr. Barr’s campaign Web site, BobBarr2008.com, which bears a strong resemblance to RonPaul2008.com, complete with bouncy graphics and a money clock at the top of the home page.
Like the Paul campaign, Mr. Barr is trying to build support on the Web. “Meetup, the Facebook, the YouTube,” said Mr. Verney, ticking off the Web sites where the campaign has established itself. “We have more Meetups than Hillary and McCain combined.”
Mr. Barr’s skeleton staff has set up temporary camp in the offices of Liberty Strategies, Mr. Barr’s public relations firm. He has a half-dozen full-time employees, but Mr. Verney said there were plans to move into a 4,600-square-foot space and expand to 28 people later this summer.
While the Barr campaign flies mostly under the radar, a Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll this week showed that if the presidential election were held today, Mr. Barr would garner 3 percent of the vote, mostly from people who would otherwise vote Republican.
A recent national poll suggested that Mr. Nader has roughly the same percentage of support as Mr. Barr. While in the past he has drawn largely from disenchanted Democrats, Mr. Nader said in an interview that he now attracted support from people who would otherwise vote Republican.
Many Republicans said they were unconcerned about Mr. Barr’s presence in the race. “We’re confident that regardless of the field, our candidate’s message will carry through to November,” said Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for the McCain campaign.
But analysts said Mr. Barr could be a menace to Mr. McCain, particularly in Georgia, where Mr. Barr is relatively well known and Mr. Obama has already begun running television advertisements.
“Clearly in Georgia, Bob Barr is making the state competitive,” said Larry J. Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “We all remember Nader. Sometimes you can get a tiny fraction of the vote and make a difference electorally in a state or two. It’s entirely possible.”
Similarly, Mr. Barr could have impact in Colorado, where Mr. Perot’s presence gave Bill Clinton the opening to win the state in 1992, said Robert D. Loevy, a professor of political science at Colorado College in Colorado Springs.
“If Bob Barr gets it up to 3, 4, 5 percent of the vote, it could definitely throw Colorado to Barack Obama,” Mr. Loevy said.
The Obama campaign has played up the Barr campaign’s potential impact, citing it as a potential plus during a briefing with reporters on Wednesday.
“If Barr were to get 2 percent in most states, our belief is he’ll get 4 percent here,” said David Plouffe, Mr. Obama’s campaign manager, speaking of Georgia. “Most of it coming out of McCain’s hide.”