Petraeus Testifies, Penn Steps Down, Barr to Run?

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In this week's edition of the "Political Junkie", Washington Post reporter Dana Millbank discusses the recent testimony on Iraq before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker have warned House members against withdrawing more U.S. troops from Iraq.

Also, NPR's political editor Ken Rudin weighs in on the resignation of chief Clinton strategist Mark Penn, who stepped down Sunday as a result of his work on behalf of a trade agreement Clinton opposes. And former GOP Rep. Bob Barr has launched a presidential exploratory committee for a possible run for the Libertarian Party. How will this play out on the campaign trail?

Libertarians Battle for Their Nomination

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There's no reason why the Democrats should have all the fun. It looks like there is going to be a fight for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination as well.

Ordinarily the Libertarians don't get much attention. Nor do their presidential candidates. Since the party's founding in 1971 (nine cycles ago), not one nominee has topped a million votes, though they usually make it to all 50 state ballots. Ed Clark, a California attorney, was the party's most successful presidential nominee to date, receiving 921,299 votes when he ran in 1980.

Many were anticipating the party turning to Ron Paul for this cycle. Paul, one of only six House Republicans who voted against going to war against Iraq in 2002, made a big splash in the blogosphere during his bid for the Republican presidential nomination this year, but not at the ballot box. He never came close to winning any primary or caucus, though he did manage to beat expectations in Montana (25 percent), North Dakota (21 percent), Maine (19 percent), Alaska (17 percent) and Minnesota (16 percent). But in the primaries that meant the most, he was barely a factor (8 percent in N.H., 4 percent in S.C., 3 percent in Fla., 4 percent in Calif.). Even in his home state of Texas, he managed just 5 percent. He is a shoo-in for re-election to his House seat.

But because he raised an enormous (and surprising) sum of money for his White House bid, and because he ran as a Libertarian for president once before (in 1988, when he was out of Congress), the expectation was that a repeat Libertarian bid this time wouldn't be so far-fetched ("I'm not leaving the Republican Party; the Republican Party has left me," as we envisioned his opening line). Yet, from all we've been able to see, he is not going to do it. In fact, although John McCain has long ago mathematically locked up the GOP nomination, Paul's Republican candidacy continues; he's even campaigning this week in Pennsylvania, in advance of the April 22 primary.

And it's not that other Libertarians have been sitting around waiting to see what Paul would do. Candidates already in the race for the party's nomination include Steve Kubby, a proponent of legalized marijuana for medical purposes who was the party's gubernatorial candidate in California in 1998; George Phillies, a physics professor at Worcester Polytech Institute and a former Massachusetts congressional candidate; and Wayne Allyn Root, a professional sports handicapper and author from Las Vegas.

Then it got interesting.

Last month, former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), who — alas — is still seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, announced he was joining the party. "My libertarian views," said Gravel, "as well as my strong stance against the war, the military industrial complex and American imperialism, seem not to be tolerated by Democratic Party elites who are out of touch with the average American." He said he would continue his presidential campaign but now as a Libertarian, though it's worthwhile to note that last month Gravel announced he was supporting the presidential candidacy of Green Party hopeful Jesse Johnson.

Gravel's switch to the Libertarians was followed not long after by the news that ex-Rep. Bob Barr was forming a presidential exploratory committee of his own. Barr has been out of Congress since he lost a Republican primary in 2002 caused by redistricting. He joined the Libertarians in 2006. Announcing his intentions at a meeting of Libertarians in Kansas City, Barr said, "America today faces a grave moral and leadership crisis, and those of us who care about our country's future can no longer sit on the sidelines and remain neutral." A well-known fixture on cable TV who enjoyed tormenting President Clinton in the 1990s, Barr has long been a harsh critic of the Bush administration's policies on privacy and civil liberties.

The thought of Bob Barr and Mike Gravel fighting it out for the same party's nomination leaves us speechless.

The party will hold its nominating convention in Denver from May 23-26.

HISTORY: Here's the list of Libertarian presidential candidates and how they performed nationally.

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