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On Bob Barr and John McCain

I’ve joked (ok, at least partly joked) lately that I may have trouble deciding whether to vote for Bob Barr in the election this November. While I think McCain (as compared to Rudy, Romney, and Huckabee) was the best alternative left in a pretty weak deck after Thompson failed to ignite, he’s no great shakes. People will vote for John McCain for the same reason they buy vanilla ice cream – they want something mild and flavorless rather than something they have to think about.

There will be, however, more than a few people who can’t stand the thought of someone as liberal as Obama, but also aren’t too keen on someone as liberal-friendly as McCain. So I started to actually take a serious look at the possible effect of a Barr candidacy on the possible outcome in November. There is a potential there for a Perot-like or Nader-like spoiler.

A lot of people I know within the GOP have adopted an attitude that can be summed up simply – the party deserves to get its ass kicked and spend some time in the wilderness. The reasoning is the GOP has lost its way on fiscal restraint, ethics, size/scope of government, and most other measures of the issues that brought us to the dance.

Now drawing out that analogy and thinking back to grade school dating power plays… If the date that brought you takes off and starts dancing with another, do you sit in the corner sulking, hoping they’ll come to their senses? Or do you find someone else to dance with in the hopes that they’ll get jealous and realize what they’re missing?

For people who are considering sitting this one out, Bob Barr may end up being their go-to guy instead.

His credentials are shaky at best. He led the charge for Clinton’s impeachment, but did so based on Bill’s shady campaign financing, not his extracurricular blow jobs. He led the charge on defining marriage as one man and one woman, but now regrets some of that and opposes a federal amendment because it violates the rights of states to decide things for themselves. He was for the Patriot Act before he was against it. He led the fight against medical marijuana laws, but the Libertarian platform has typically been pro-legalization.

So his past positions and present statements tend to paint a picture of a guy at odds with himself, and both his current and former party. Still, he had a fairly solid following when he was in Congress and his positions (however much they’ve solidified now) may be attractive enough to a sizable group of people.

The Libertarian Party typically garners between .3 and .5 percent of the vote nationally – not even enough votes to break out of the “other” category when the final tally is rung up. However, on a state by state basis, they could be significantly impact the GOP’s chances.

For instance, If Barr were able to pull just 2% in Ohio (based on 2004’s numbers) and those extra votes were subtracted from Bush’s total (let’s assume McCain runs about the same minus Barr’s votes), then a Barr candidacy could cost McCain Ohio. Barr would need to pull 5% in Florida (with the same assumptions) to cost the GOP the sunshine state.

But forget states like Florida and Ohio, and look at states like New Mexico, Iowa (tipped by a 2% and .8% swing, respectively) and Colorado (which would take about a 5% Libertarian vote). If Barr gets traction in those three states, suddenly you have enough EVs in play to overturn the results of 2004. Suddenly Obama walks into the White House while losing both Ohio and Florida. Colorado is already trending away from the GOP, New Mexico is fickle anyway, and Iowa was only won by a whisker as it was.

It wouldn’t take much for Barr to tip a couple of key states away from the GOP.

If McCain continues his about face on immigration reform, he’ll start driving people away faster than a dead rat in a salad bar. Yet he seems to be counting on making up for those losses by appealing to centrist Ds (and maybe the racists Dems that can’t stand pushing the button for the black man). If he pushes his ‘Uniter’ credentials, he risks reminding the GOP base exactly why they distrust/dislike him to begin with.

The next 5 month are going to be a tough tightrope for McCain to walk. Tilt too far to one hoping to pick up Democrats and drive more people to Barr. Tilt to far to the base to avoid bleeding supporters to the Libertarians and drive away the moderate Dems he seems to be courting.

Could Barr moving to McCain’s right force him to fight a two front war and lose? It’s possible.

I guess I should tone down the jokes about voting for Barr – that or just jump in his camp so I can be an early adopter. I suspect there may be a bunch of people moving that way. I may as well be the first… I’ll let you know what I decide sometime later.

Written by Michael Turk