Bob Barr, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, is not your usual fringe candidate.
For one thing, he's got a record as an elected official. Barr, at the time a conservative Republican, represented a suburban Atlanta congressional district from 1994 to 2003. And he became a national figure as a House leader of the impeachment effort against President Clinton.
But Barr also took positions in Congress that are at odds with the laissez-faire Libertarians, notably on the war in Iraq. Barr voted in favor of the congressional war resolution in 2002, although he now says, “I never voted for an occupation of Iraq.”
Barr's record has hurt him with some party faithful who still look to Ron Paul, the anti-war Texas Republican congressman and 1988 Libertarian Party presidential nominee who became an Internet sensation during his 2008 run for the GOP presidential nomination.
Paul, who suspended his presidential campaign earlier this year, is hosting a “Rally for the Republic” in Minneapolis on Sept. 2 during the Republican convention in St. Paul. Although he says he is not running for president and is not leaving the GOP, Paul is a galvanizing figure, and the motives and purpose of his rally remain unclear.
Paul almost certainly will not be endorsing GOP presumptive nominee John McCain, said Paul spokesman Jesse Benton.
The Libertarian Party is the nation's third-largest party, and Barr is on track to be on the ballot in 48 states. But he freely admits he is having trouble fundraising. Barr only raised $380,000 through the end of July, according to opensecrets.org, a nonpartisan Web site reporting on federal records. Paul, by contrast, raised $34.5 million in his presidential campaign run.
Barr's other big obstacle is getting into the three presidential debates, run by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The commission, an entity created by the Republican and Democratic parties, requires third party candidates have a 15 percent showing in polls to participate.
A Zogby poll in July had Barr at 6 percent, but other polls, including a recent Gallup poll, place him at 1 percent.
But in a close national election, he still could have an impact.
Barr did not join the Libertarian Party until 2006, but he has no qualms about dislodging Republican Party standard-bearer McCain – a possibility in states like New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, where Libertarians are polling 3 percent or higher.
“It's possible he could ‘Naderize' McCain,” said Steven Schier, political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota, referring to Ralph Nader's impact on the 2000 presidential election when Democrat Al Gore lost Florida – and the presidency – by 537 votes. “It could be that a few thousand votes tip the balance.”