Friday, June 20, 2008

The Real Ralph Nader of 2008: Bob Barr

Now that the nominees for both the major parties are settled, it's time to talk about another nominee who has largely escaped notice: Bob Barr.

In late May, the Libertarian Party nominated for president former Republican Congressman Bob Barr. Barr's nomination will undoubtedly cause John McCain problems come November, and he may very well play the role of spoiler that Ralph Nader did in 2000.

McCain is viewed warily at best among conservative Republicans, particularly those who are religiously conservative. But he is also viewed with suspicion among Hayek-espousing libertarians who don't support the war in Iraq. These folks, of course, contributed heavily to Ron Paul's campaign and routinely delivered 20 percent of the vote or more in late Republican primary states well after the nomination had been all but delivered to McCain.

The problem for McCain is these Ron Paul supporters are clustered in states where he needs to do well to win in November. Additionally, it is interesting to note the relationship between Ron Paul's support to Ross Perot's support in 1992.

The following table looks at Perot's 10 best states in 1992, lists the percentage of the vote George Bush got in 2004, and Ron Paul's performance in the Republican primaries (or caucuses, as the case may be) this year:

I then added the latest polling in these states on the matchup between Obama and McCain. The highlighted states, four in number, represent those states where Barr might possibly draw enough votes to tip the balance away from McCain in favor of Obama. Voters here have displayed a propensity to support third party candidates in the past, and have indicated a willingess to support a maverick member of the Republican Party this year. You can add Kansas to that list should Obama pick popular Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

The point of all of this is to say that Barr can help Obama in his effort to increase the number of states in play this fall. If McCain can't win Nevada, Alaska, and Montana, not only will he lose, he will likely lose big. Even more troubling from his perspective is Minnesota, a state that Republicans have tried to put into play since 2000. The latest polls indicate that Minnesota is again a swing state, but if Barr can pull even 5 percent of the vote (certainly not inconceivable given Perot's 26 percent in 1992 and Jesse Ventura's surprise gubernatorial victory a few years later), McCain's ability to put more "blue" states in play to force Obama to play defense himself will be severely hampered.

Add to this Obama's decision to opt out of public financing, and suddenly, the hill for McCain to climb becomes even steeper.

I should note that it appears that the Obama campaign has noticed this, too. Their recent ad buy reintroducing Obama to voters covers 18 states. Two of those states, Alaska and Montana, are Ross Perot-Ron Paul friendly states. One of those states, Georgia, is home to Bob Barr's former congressional district.

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