Ex-Congressman Throws Hat in Presidential Ring

NPR Senior Washington Editor Ron Elving discusses former GOP Rep. Bob Barr's decision to run as a Libertarian candidate for president. He also explains why Sen. Hillary Clinton's expected win in West Virginia on Tuesday isn't making big waves.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

In a few minutes, a profile of a young writer who expected to be applying to graduate film school right about now, instead he is serving his country in Sadr City, Iraq.

Captain NATE RAWLING (U.S. Army Captain, Iraq): There was a great quote from John Irving, "A novel is a place for everything you can't use in your own life if you are a writer."

CHADWICK: First though, to politics in this country and developments. NPR's Senior Washington Editor, Ron Elving, a regular Day to Day guest on Mondays, is back with us. Ron, we are going to talk about who is getting out of the race and when. But first, I want to begin with someone who is getting in, and that is Congressman Bob Barr, has made an announcement this morning. I think this could be significant. Tell us about it.

RON ELVING: It is not an unanticipated announcement, Alex, Bob Barr has made clear he is going to run as a candidate in the Libertarian Party. If he is, in fact, the nominee of the Libertarian party, in a very real sense to put it all in a nutshell, he becomes John McCain's Ralph Nader.

CHADWICK: Now, of course we mean the Ralph Nader who cost the Democrats, in the view of many, the election in the year 2000. But how big a factor could Mr. Barr be for Senator McCain?

ELVING: So far we have not seen Libertarian candidates cause much of a problem for Republican presidential candidates, at least not in our lifetimes. But there is always the possibility that if John McCain does not entirely nail down the support of all conservatives, some conservatives in some states may gravitate towards Bob Barr as a purer expression of their particular political philosophy.

BRAND: Meanwhile, Ron, there is the Democratic race that's still churning ahead and tomorrow the West Virginia primary takes place. And Hillary Clinton, at least according to one pole there, is expected to just trounce Senator Barack Obama by something like 36 points. And I'm just wondering why no one seems to care about that anymore?

ELVING: It's primarily because West Virginia is not very big. There are only 28 delegates at stake. There are only three Congressional Districts in West Virginia. It's close to being a minimal electoral college state, and it's also been a state where Hillary Clinton has had an insurmountable lead from the very beginning. It is the second oldest population in the country behind Florida. It is within the top three or four whitest states in the country. It also has the lowest number of college educated people as a percentage of the total state population. So, if you look at all of the characteristics of the Clinton coalition, with the exception of course, of the gender issue, West Virginia is way out at one end of the scale. So she's always been the presumptive choice.

BRAND: But she is still fighting, and she is still staying in the race until June. Is there any talk of her angling, at all, for the vice presidential spot?

ELVING: Yes, there is a great deal of talk about that and one of the reasons that she might be staying in, would be to have that leverage for the number two spot on the ticket. And I think she is quite actively interested in at least having it offered to her. She would almost surely take it. Now, she has said she will stay in until there is a nominee. We would anticipate the first date in which that claim could be made, would be a week from tomorrow, on May 20th, when the Kentucky and Oregon primaries would put Barack Obama over the top in terms of having a majority of pledged delegates. He doesn't even have to win both states, probably win Oregon, probably lose Kentucky. And he is now, in the last several days, moved ahead of Hillary Clinton in terms of unpledged delegates, sometimes called superdelegates, and so really, he's going to be the winner in both categories of delegates.

And at that point Hillary could easily say, he's the nominee, I'm getting out. We do have the Michigan and Florida delegations out there, but there are deals being negotiated right now that are probably going to give her a rather small net of delegates from each state, but get those delegations seated as everyone thought they should be, in one way or another. So, that will resolve that final question, and before we even get to the end of the month, these things could be worked out.

CHADWICK: But Ron, why isn't there a stampede of superdelegates, of the remaining superdelegates? Don't you need to see that? And you don't see that yet? Are you saying that you will see it a week from tomorrow?

ELVING: I don't know that we will see it at any one given moment. The Obama campaign has, among other things, preferred to bring these groups of people out in small groups. Whenever Clinton announces one or two superdelegates coming her way, the Obama campaign likes to bring out four or five of their own, so it's conceivable they have a reservoir of these superdelegates that they are drawing down slowly. Also, you still have 200 and some superdelegates who have not seen it in their interest yet to commit, about 50 of those had yet been determined by their state conventions, so of course they can't commit. But among those who are still holding out, many of them have their own political reasons for doing so, including that they don't want to go against the wishes of their district, or their state, which has already voted for the person they don't plan to commit to.

CHADWICK: Ron Elving, along with political editor Ken Rudin, he produces the weekly podcast, It's All Politics at npr.org. Ron, thank you again.

ELVING: Nice to be with you.

BRAND: There is more coming up on Day to Day from NPR News.

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