Coverage of Bob Barr's Libertarian Party run is turning to the "spoiler" issue, and I think a lot of reporters are missing the forest for the trees. Here's John Fund:
Will that attention [paid to Barr] translate into enough votes to cost John McCain the presidential election, much as Ralph Nader is said to have "spoiled" Florida for Al Gore in 2000?
A recent poll by Insider Advantage showed Barr winning 8 percent of the November vote there versus 45 percent for McCain and 35 percent for Senator Obama. Georgia has a large African-American population, and if Obama can generate high turnout in that community, a key part of his base, then that plus Barr could cost McCain the state – and conceivably the election.
But Barr doesn't actually need to spoil Georgia, to use the state. He merely needs to force McCain to fight for the state. That, as much as Florida, was the effect of the 2000 Nader run. In the waning days of the race, Al Gore had to waste time campaigning in states he should have locked up long before, like Minnesota and Oregon, because Nader was polling close to 10 percent in them. (Nader eventually broke 5 percent in both states.) Meanwhile, George W. Bush was able to expand the map and dither with an 11th hour California campaign jaunt.
McCain will have less money to spend than Obama, and Georgia's an expensive state. The last competitive statewide race, the 2002 Senate battle between Saxby Chambliss and Max Cleland, cost a total of $18 million. That's as much as McCain raised in the month of April. Unless Barr really takes off and starts scoring Perot-like numbers, that's the risk for McCain right now: Wasted resources and wasted time, while Obama is free to plunge into Colorado, Nevada, Ohio, etc.