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Former GOP lawmaker joins presidential race

Bob Barr is running as a Libertarian. He says out-of-control government spending is his main concern.

May 13, 2008|Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Bob Barr, a onetime Republican congressman from Georgia, on Monday announced his plan to run for president as a Libertarian, promising to rein in federal spending and limit military involvement abroad.

"The government has run amok fiscally," Barr said at a news conference. During the first quarter of this year, he said, the private sector lost millions of jobs while the federal government was "hiring with enthusiasm."

Barr, who left the Republican Party two years ago, is expected to win the Libertarian Party's nomination during its convention this month in Denver.

On Monday, he said presumed Republican nominee John McCain was not a true conservative.

"There's not a great deal of substance there in terms of a commitment to cutting the size of government," said Barr, 59.

Besides, he said, no one who had crafted campaign finance changes -- as McCain did -- that capped individual donations could call himself a conservative -- "at least with a straight face."

Barr also lashed out at Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton for saying that the U.S. should "obliterate Iran" if that nation threatened Israel's existence.

Calling the New York senator's statement "tremendously dire," Barr said he had seen no evidence to indicate that Iran was close to possessing nuclear weapons.

Saying that both the Republican and Democratic parties had "bought into a system of running a charity called the United States of America," Barr criticized programs that used public funds to educate children of illegal immigrants and maintain foreign military bases "that have no more efficacy in the 21st century."

"The federal government needs to get away from the notion that simply because we have all this money in the treasury -- or we can borrow more money -- that we can provide all these services," he said. "That is not responsible government."

Political commentators debated the effect of Barr's entry into the campaign.

Some argued that -- as with Ralph Nader, who in 2000 pulled votes away from Democrat Al Gore -- Barr could take enough votes from McCain in 2008 to give the Democratic nominee the election.

Barr confirmed that he was asked by McCain supporters not to run, but he defended his decision, saying that "American voters deserve better than simply the lesser of two evils."

Christopher R. Barron, a Republican political consultant, said it was equally plausible that Barr could hurt Democrat Barack Obama if he was the eventual nominee.

"I think Bob Barr's candidacy could impact the race, but I don't know at this point which candidate he is likely to help or hurt," Barron said. "If Barr's candidacy is fueled by the same people who supported Ron Paul -- college students, antiwar advocates and hard-core libertarians -- then I think it is unlikely to hurt Sen. McCain in any significant way because these are not the type of voters McCain is reaching out to. I could actually envision a scenario under which Barr's candidacy actually helps McCain by siphoning off some of the enthusiasm among college voters and antiwar advocates for Obama."

Jennifer E. Duffy of Cook Political Report said of Barr: "I think he is only a threat if he gets on the ballot in a de- cent number of battleground states."

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johanna.neuman@latimes.com

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