A tough race: Alumnus Bob Barr fights for Libertarians

With his presidential bid this fall, Bob Barr hopes to intrude on the two-party system that has dominated American politics since the Civil War – if he can get on the ballot.

As the Libertarian Party candidate, Barr is not giving historic speeches to packed stadiums, meeting with foreign dignitaries or dominating the 24-hour news cycle. The 59-year-old, who received a master’s degree in international affairs from GW in 1972, is aiming to get his name on the ballot in as many states as possible and hopefully secure a place for Libertarian candidates in future elections.

“The two-party system has basically been seen as the Holy Grail of national politics for over 150 years and it’s very difficult to break that stranglehold,” Barr said in an interview with The Hatchet from his office in the Watergate. “We’re poised this year to really start that process.”

Barr was once a conservative congressman from Georgia, a CIA analyst and a U.S. Attorney. Now he faces a formidable journey as a third-party presidential candidate in a two-party nation.

The candidate, decked in a pink Versace-logo tie to complement his thick-rimmed glasses and thin, grey mustache, is known around Washington for his vehement anti-big government stance that led him to ditch the Republican Party for the Libertarians two years ago. To accusations of abandonment, he spits the response: “The Republican Party left me.”

Barr vilified his former party as a “victim of its own success.” He said the Republican Party lost its substance over the years, focused solely on raising money and getting elected.

But it may be more than just Barr’s sharp jabs that hurt the Republicans this fall. He has been pinpointed as a possible spoiler for John McCain, potentially stealing conservative votes from the Republican Party presidential nominee in certain states.

“Doesn’t bother me,” Barr said of the possibility, “Though it is somewhat humorous for the Republican Party to already be looking for excuses for losing the election by raising this awful specter of Bob Barr taking votes from them.”

He remains doubtful, however, that conservative voters will find many similarities between himself and the Arizona senator.

But Vincent Stine, a GW professor who specializes in American political parties, speculated that the popularity of Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin with the conservative base makes it less likely that Barr will steal many votes from McCain.

“When you’re a third-party candidate, unless you’re Ross Perot and you can throw billions of dollars into it, you can’t get high (vote) percentages,” Stine said. When push comes to shove, most Americans likely won’t want to “waste their votes” on a third-party candidate, he added.

But that doesn’t stop Barr from campaigning at full speed. Never one to shy away from criticizing a fellow politician, he called for President Clinton’s impeachment in Congress even before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke – “on campaign finance allegations.” He said he sees both Obama and McCain as threats to American civil liberties.

“Neither of the candidates are interested in real change; they’re just interested in gaining power,” Barr said.

His “small but high-quality” presidential campaign relies on distinguishing him from the other candidates as its primary means of attack, since the campaign itself is struggling to stay afloat financially. Barr said that raising money has undoubtedly been his greatest obstacle in running a third-party campaign. Most of the money, he said, needs to be spent on gaining ballot access.

Though Barr’s record portrays a gruff, stone-faced politician, college students may know him best from his role in the 2006 Ali G movie, Borat, where he was duped into tasting cheese purportedly made from breast milk.

Barr, who cracked his first smile of the interview in talking about his silver-screen cameo, said Borat’s interview request seemed like a “legitimate request from a foreign journalist.”

“It started off like a normal interview,” Barr said. “Obviously, it veered off course dramatically.”

Aside from his own public embarrassment, he admitted to finding the movie funny and relished the fact that he could be “part of history.”

But Barr hopes to make history for more than falling prey to faux journalism. He and his vice-presidential pick, Wayne Allyn Root, have made it onto the ballots in 42 states, with lawsuits pending in two more with the potential of winning a spot. Their goal is to ensure automatic ballot access in the future for Libertarian Party candidates, and to shake-up U.S. politics along the way.

Nathan Grossman contributed to this report.

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