The smallish room Bob Barr booked for his presidential announcement was overflowing with journalists. I've seen every Ron Paul 2008 event held at the venue, and they never drew this sort of interest: There were, I think, four working reporters at the press conference announcing the haul from the first moneybomb. But Barr's announcement drew live reporters from the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post (even if it was the famously snarky "Sketch" author Dana Milbank). Barr foreign policy pal Doug Bandow stood by him at the podium, and foreign policy maven Jim Bovard sat in the audience.
I doubt the interest will keep up unless Barr's promises come true and he becomes a "credible candidate" for the White House with a chance to win a plurality of the vote. The press corps wanted to know two things: Could Barr be stumped on any policy questions? Did he explicitly want to spoil the election for McCain? The answers were no and no, although Barr's "spoiler" answer wasn't entirely credible. "The thought has never crossed my mind," he said. Well, sure it has. After the conference, Barr's political adviser Russ Verney told me that Barr had tested the waters with an exploratory committee because he didn't want to run if he couldn't win. "There are substantial risks," Verney said. "We're talking about alienating life-long friends. We're talking about putting your credibility on the line." The main thing that would cause Barr to lose friends would be, of course, if he Nadered McCain.
So the media attention puts to rest the claims of rival candidates, like Christine Smith, that Barr is anything but the biggest publicity draw in the race. He was notably less dry than the figure the Washington press remembers from the Clinton impeachment. Ralph Z. Hallow of the Washington Times framed a question about immigration in terms of public "compassion." Barr filibustered a little. "No one's ever accused me of being a compassionate conservative," he said. "Am I compassionate? You could ask my wife." A bit after Barr said he opposed a specific timetable for withdrawal from Iaq, Sean Higgins of Investor's Business Daily asked if Barr knew which states he'd be targeting. "Yes." Higgins asked him to elaborate. "Just as it's not strategically sound to tell the enemy your timetable for withdrawal…" Barr explained.
Is Barr picking up the Ron Paul vote? He acrobatically avoided tying his campaign to Paul, but I talked to a few familiar Paulites in the audience. Ron Paul Rider Michael Maresco, who staged a 60-day bike ride across the country to support Paul, shook hands with Barr then told me he would back him. Brad Jansen, a ubiquitous DC organizer for Paul and manager of one of the Ron Paul Republicans' campaigns for the House (Vern McKinley, in the DC exurbs), talked to Barr about writing a follow-up to his 2002 Liberty article defending him against attacks by the then-leadership of the LP.
The audio of the press's questions is here. The reporters are hard to hear, but Barr's voice should be clear.