Keep an Eye on Barr, Independent Voters

Washington Matters

Keep an Eye on Barr, Independent Voters

Don't write off the possibility that Bob Barr, the former congressman running as the Libertarian Party presidential candidate, could have a big impact on the presidential race. His draw in recent polls is relatively small -- 2%-6% -- but he's drawing much of his support from Republicans and conservatives who otherwise might vote for GOP candidate John McCain. And if that news isn't bad enough for Republicans, there's evidence that the other dominant third party candidate, Ralph Nader, is drawing far more support from McCain than Democrat Barack Obama.

A Reuters/Zogby poll released Wednesday illustrates just how alarmed the McCain camp should be. In a head-to-head matchup, Obama leads McCain 47-40. But when Barr and Nader are included in the survey, that lead grows to 46-36 with the other two candidates each drawing 3%. With polls all over the map in recent days, even those numbers would be easy to ignore were it not for one thing: nearly all the Barr and Nader backers came out of the McCain column.

In many states such a difference could be minor. But if Barr's support holds up into the election, it could be enough to tilt things toward Obama in key battleground states. That could be especially true for three Southern states that have been regarded as solidly Republican for years but the Obama campaign regards as vulnerable: Georgia,  North Carolina and Virginia.

While Barr appears to be doing well with disaffected Republicans, he is making an especially strong pitch to independents, privacy-minded Democrats and a particular breed of conservative, the "leave-me-alone" types who worry far more about the size and power of government than the values issues that tend to be of greater concern to the GOP's base. While Barr voted for the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws viewed with suspicion by many civil libertarians when he was a GOP House member, he has said for many years now that he regrets those votes. He has even become an ally of the ACLU, despised in many Republican circles. C-Net has a story today looking at Barr's support from privacy activists and suggests that he even has a chance at picking up some Democrats furious at Obama for voting for the recent FISA bill even though it includes a provision he once vowed to oppose.