DENVER — Midway through Sunday’s first round of balloting for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination, a worried John LaBeaume muttered, “It’s like Badnarik all over again.”
LaBeaume, an LP delegate from the District of Columbia and a supporter of former Rep. Bob Barr’s campaign, was tallying up the state-by-state presidential votes and remembering his party’s 2004 convention in Atlanta.
The 2004 Libertarian convention rejected a media-savvy candidate — Hollywood executive Aaron Russo, who led in the first two rounds of voting — and delivered a third-ballot win for software engineer Michael Badnarik.
Badnarik went on to garner just 0.32 percent of the vote in November, a disappointing result that left many Libertarians dejected, feeling their party was doomed to obscurity.
On the first ballot this year at the Denver Sheraton, it seemed to LaBeaume that the LP was headed for deja vu all over again. The convention would reject the candidate with mainstream appeal in favor of a relative unknown who could be safely ignored by the press.
THAT NIGHTMARE SCENARIO was averted when Barr won on the sixth ballot Sunday. The ex-Republican from Georgia finished with 324 votes to 276 for longtime LP activist Mary Ruwart.
His nomination was secured with the help of rival candidate Wayne Allyn Root, who endorsed Barr after being eliminated in the fifth round of balloting. A high-energy Las Vegas oddsmaker, Root was subsequently nominated for vice president, producing what Barr called “the strongest ticket in the history of the Libertarian Party.”
Whether that ticket can exceed the LP’s past performance — the party’s presidential nominee has never topped a million votes — remains to be seen, but Barr says Libertarians have the opportunity this year to do more than play the “spoiler” role in which many commentators have cast his campaign.
“We are not in this race just to send a message, although a very important message will be sent,” Barr told delegates in his acceptance speech Sunday. “This is a campaign that will win.”
An outright victory for the LP is a long shot so remote that even Root probably couldn’t calculate the astronomical odds against it. But the possibility that the party could score its best-ever November showing is very real, as demonstrated by the strong showing in the Republican presidential primaries by Texas Rep. Ron Paul.
PAUL, WHO WAS the LP’s presidential nominee in 1988, raised more than $20 million this year for his anti-war, limited-government candidacy in the GOP. Barr calls Paul “a very good friend,” and says his former House colleague has been an inspiration to Libertarians.
“What Ron Paul has done is brought to light the manner in which libertarian ideas, the libertarian philosophy, are very much a part of the political fabric of the country,” Barr said at a media breakfast Saturday. “He’s moved it from the back of the room to the front of the room.”
Barr sees Paul supporters as a bloc of independent voters who are unlikely to support either the Republican or Democratic nominee in November.
“It’s very difficult to imagine the circumstance under which people that had come out and supported Ron Paul, voted for Ron Paul, would switch their allegiance to Senator Obama or Senator McCain. Their natural home would be Bob Barr as the Libertarian candidate,” Barr said, speaking of himself in the third person.
BECOMING THE LP candidate was a major challenge for Barr, who only joined the Libertarians two years ago and didn’t officially declare his presidential candidacy until just ten days before the convention started.