Former Rep. Bob Barr's campaign won't confirm or deny it, but John Martin is reporting that Barr will move from an exploratory bid to an official presidential run on Monday.
As I reported last week, Barr is the frontrunner, narrowly, for the Libertarian Party nomination—it's been a close three-way race between him, Wayne Allyn Root, and Mary Ruwart. Root-backing South Carolina delegate Stewart Flood tells me that he was "on the fence" as long as Barr didn't officially declare, but he's "definitely supporting him" come Monday. "I'm sure Wayne's not happy," Flood says, "but he knows my position. I think he'd make a great running mate." (I pointed out to Flood that Root has said he'd turn down the vice presidential nomination: "If Wayne doesn't want the VP under Bob, I'll buy a hat so I can eat it."
Candidate George Phillies, who has theorized that Barr was going the "exploratory committee" route because he didn't think he could win the nomination, didn't express much surprise. "If he tried announcing his bid at the convention it would get complicated," Phillies says. "This way he has a chance to make a legitimate case to the delegates. He must think he can pull it off." (Phillies has his own motives, obviously, but the "Barr won't get in because he's scared to lose" meme was swirling around when I talked to delegates.)
Phillies isn't intending to step aside for Barr. "My current reaction is that if he's the nominee he'll blow the party apart," he says. "The entire radical wing will walk. Some of the centrists will walk. Bob may get the nomination and go after some of those disaffected conservative voters, but it would be a dismal result for the party."
UPDATE: A statement from Wayne Allyn Root:
Bob Barr is a fine man and a solid candidate- with a well-known name in D.C. political circles.
But the Libertarian Party is an anti-establishment, anti-big government, anti-tax, anti-D.C. insiders party. Bob is a politician, ex-prosecutor and lawyer- just like virtually every single candidate offered by the Republicans and Democrats.
On the other hand, I offer a very different and unique image and attitude for the LP. I'm the ANTI-POLITICIAN. I'm a son of a butcher, 2nd generation American, small businessman, home-school father of 4 young children (including a brand new baby), and a citizen politician. I'm the quintessential Washington D.C. outsider. I've never worked in DC, never lived in DC, never done business with the government, never collected a check from government (other than a student loan—which I paid back in full). That's a very different resume for a Presidential candidate.
Amazingly, I've actually created jobs. I've actually risked my own money to start businesses. I've actually made payrolls and signed checks so others could live the American Dream. I've actually paid the health insurance for my employees. How's that for different? I don't just talk about jobs…and the economy…and the problems of small business…and the health insurance crisis- I've lived it. This is the stuff that politicians, prosecutors and lawyers just talk about!
And in a country where small business now creates the majority of non-government jobs, I think a President who understands the unique issues and problems facing small businessmen and women is the perfect person to put in the White House.
If a third party wants to think "out of the box" and present a unique candidate that fires up the spirit and passion of American voters who are obviously sick of "the same old, same old" and the same D.C. status quo, I'm the rebel with a pitchfork. That's a picture that will make huge inroads versus the 2-party system in 2008. As opposed to running a politician, ex-Congressman and lawyer to defeat who? A bunch of politicians, Congressman and lawyers. And where is Congressman Barr announcing his decision? In Washington DC of course. I spend my life figuring out ways to avoid going near the federal government or stepping foot in D.C. Quite a difference in image and attitude.
As far as media, let's compare my record to former Congressman Barr or former Senator Gravel. I'm able to attract major national media because of who I am and what I have to say, not what I've been (an ex-politician).
The media is attracted to me because I have interesting things to say and because I always say it in a dynamic, passionate and colorful way that makes Americans stop the channel and take notice. That's precisely what the LP so desperately needs. Not just someone with a great Libertarian message- but someone who can translate that message in a way that appeals to mainstream American voters.
Having said all that, I look forward to presenting our messages and visions to LP voters at our convention in Denver.
UPDATE: Mary Ruwart responds.
There are a lot of good things about Barr candidacy, and there are some things that trouble me. One thing that bothers me is his endorsement of the Fair Tax. I think we should eliminate the income tax and replace with nothing. That's something we've been saying for years in the Libertarian Party. The fact that he wants to replace the income tax suggests that Bob is not serious about cutting spending.
There's something else I talked about with Bob several weeks before: The legalization of hard drugs. He said he'd come down on the side of liberty, and he said he'd express that in the media. But when he went on Hannity and Colmes he got pushed to the wall by those guys. And once again he took a different position than the LP has taken.
He sponsored the Defense of Marriage Act, something that's making a lot of gay couples very unhappy, and the gay community has produced some of the biggest supporters of the LP. I'd hate to think of doing anything that would antagonize that community.
Bob has made quite a turnaround in his views, and that's a good thing. He's seen the light: That's a powerful message to Republicans disillusioned with the major parties. If I were in Bob's shoes I'd certainly run for president, but four years ago, not this time. I'd correct my record on DOMA, my hard drugs stances, my tax stances. Our standard bearer should epitomize the libertarian philosophy in entirety, and present it in an attractive package to the country. If our standard bearer doesn't believe in liberty, how can we convince the American people to do so?
Ruwart didn't rule out running as a VP candidate to Barr "if I felt it would be good for the party."