DENVER -- "The Libertarian Party -- Not For Sale!" declares a flyer being distributed here by the LP Radical Caucus. The charge is that former Rep. Bob Barr's presidential campaign is part of a takeover plot by Barr's campaign manager Russ Verney and longtime conservative fundraiser Richard Viguerie.
The accusation that Barr and others are attempting to "hijack" the party is one of the many intrigues surrounding the Libertarian convention that began here Thursday. With 14 declared presidential candidates and more than 1,000 delegates -- none of them officially pledged to any candidate -- there is plenty of opportunity for suspicion.
Barr's candidacy has generated an intense level of media interest in this year's convention at the Denver Sheraton, though the Washington press corps seems not to comprehend the difficulties Barr faces to win this slippery fish of a nomination. Verney earlier this week called Barr the LP's "underdog."
Many reporter leapt to the conclusion that the nomination was Barr's for the asking and began speculating about whether the ex-Republican would be a "spoiler" for Republican Sen. John McCain. An ABC News article Thursday described Barr as "the likely Libertarian choice," but many of the delegates here at the Sheraton Hotel are skeptical of Barr's likelihood.
"He's not a shoo-in by any means," said Scott Mallek, a Minnesota delegate, who is "leaning toward" LP presidential candidate Mary Ruwart.
RUWART IS THE focus of one of the controversies surrounding this week's convention, with good reason.
Last month, an anonymous contributor to ThirdPartyWatch.com posted excerpts of a 1999 book by Ruwart in which she wrote, "Children who willingly participate in sexual acts have the right to make that decision," and suggested that laws against child pornography only increased "incentives for parents to use children against their will."
Earlier this month, LP Executive Director Shane Cory resigned after a dispute with party leaders over whether Libertarians should condemn Ruwart's statement. Since then, Cory has been hired by Viguerie, who also purchased ThirdPartyWatch.com. Both Cory and Viguerie are seen as allies of Barr, and the party's Radical Caucus presents this all as part of an insidious, organized plan.
"Barr and Viguerie are attempting to gain control of the LP so that Barr can campaign on a hybrid conservative/libertarian platform," the caucus flyer warns. "If successful, the Libertarian Party will become just one more mouthpiece for malcontent Republicans." It urged delegates to support either Ruwart or California pro-marijuana activist Steve Kubby on the first ballot of Sunday's presidential vote, to save the party from certain Republicanization.
They obviously didn't let the details get in the way of a good story. ThirdPartyWatch.com had been owned by Stephen Gordon, who served as both communications director and political director for the national Libertarian Party. He dismissed complaints about the sale of the site. "Basically, we have Libertarians complaining about selling private property...what in any other party would be considered the normal business of politics," Gordon said Thursday.
Gordon is now a Barr senior campaign advisor. He protested that "Viguerie is not 'officially' involved in the Barr campaign." LP delegates with conspiratorial appetites, however, might have noted the presence of Viguerie in the lobby of the Sheraton Thursday night, where he was spotted speaking with known Barr supporters.
SEVERAL CONVENTION delegates say they sympathize with Ruwart, a longtime LP activist.
"I was disgusted by the smear," said Glenn Nielsen, chair of the Missouri LP and a Ruwart supporter. "I think the party needs to show her our support, for all she's done for the party."
Illinois delegate Ken Groeling is supporting Michael Jingozian for the presidential nomination, but said he wasn't troubled by Ruwart's statement. "For what she wrote, she's right....Underage kids are going to have sex," said Groeling, adding that he could see how "talking heads" on TV news would misconstrue her argument against criminal sanctions for child pornography.
Groeling has been active with the LP since 1988. He shrugged off the conspiracies and rumors with a, "We get that all the time."
Another thing that the party gets all the time is horrific platform fights. Today votes are expected on several motions regarding the party platform and bylaws. Those votes should "give us a good indication" of the relative strength of Barr and his opponents, said one Barr supporter.
One cause favored by the LP radicals is the so-called "Restore '04" agenda to change the party's platform back to the detailed 14,000-word treatise that was scrapped at the 2006 Libertarian convention in Portland, Ore. The revised platform is a spare 5,000 words.
The radicals hope to get a vote to revert to the earlier platform, which among much else contained a plank condemning "all international attempts to prevent or limit private exploration, industrialization, and colonization of the moon, planets, asteroids." Talk about aiming high.