ATLANTA — A fiery former GOP congressman who gained national prominence for doggedly pursuing impeachment of President Clinton has some Republicans worried he’ll play spoiler in a tight presidential contest.
Bob Barr’s Libertarian Party bid for the White House is the longest of long shots, but political experts say he may be able to exploit the unease some die-hard conservatives still feel about Sen. John McCain, the Republican nominee-in-waiting. Combined with the surge in turnout among Democrats during the primaries and a difficult political climate for Republicans, they see what could be a recipe for trouble for the GOP.
“Bob could be the Ralph Nader of 2008,” said Dan Schnur, a GOP consultant in California who worked on McCain’s 2000 campaign but is not involved in this year’s contest. Consumer advocate Nader is the third-party candidate many Democrats blame for helping George W. Bush narrowly win in 2000.
Rep. John Linder, a Republican who defeated Barr in 2002 after Georgia’s Democratic-controlled Legislature redrew congressional boundaries to put the two lawmakers in the same district, said he didn’t think Barr would top 4 percent of the vote.
“But in some states that may be enough,” Linder said.
Democrats seem gleeful at the prospect. Tad Devine, a Washington-based Democratic strategist, said Republicans “are crazy if they aren’t worried about Barr.”
“Undoubtedly any votes he gets come out of McCain’s votes,” Devine said. “He hurts them.”
Barr, a former federal prosecutor, was swept into Congress with more than 70 other House GOP freshmen in 1994. An articulate, sometimes outspoken orator, he gained attention as the first lawmaker to call for Clinton’s resignation over the Monica Lewinsky scandal and was one of the House prosecutors who pressed the impeachment case in the Senate.
Barr also was known during his four terms in the House for his opposition to softening drug laws, including the medical use of marijuana, and his support for gun rights. He tried unsuccessfully to bar military bases from according witchcraft adherents the same accommodations as other religious worshippers.
Some Republicans aren’t worried about Barr’s candidacy. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said voting for Barr is the same as voting for Democrat Barack Obama, and said he’s confident most GOP voters will understand that.