Libertarians Pick Barr as Presidential Nominee

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It took six rounds of balloting but the Libertarian Party has chosen former Republican Rep. Bob Barr to be its presidential candidate. Barr beat 13 challengers at the party's Denver convention.

ROBERT SMITH, Host:

At least one party has chosen its presidential nominee. The Libertarians picked as their candidate a man who just recently joined the party. Former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr was a Republican until 2006. The Libertarian Party chose as his vice presidential running mate another former Republican, and that could cause problems for the GOP's likely nominee, John McCain.

NPR's Jeff Brady reports from Denver.

JEFF BRADY: Before Bob Barr could win the Libertarian Party nomination he had to overcome more than a few skeptics.

MIKE MCMANN: I wouldn't trust him half as far as I could throw him, and hopefully we get a decent true and long-time standing Libertarian to get the nomination this year.

BRADY: California delegate Mike McMann proudly wore an anti-Barr button on his shirt. He says Barr doesn't look like a Libertarian to him.

MCMANN: He voted for the Patriot Act, he altered the Defense of Marriage Act, both of which are highly unpopular within the Libertarian Party because they both highly increased government powers.

BRADY: Barr spent much of the first four days of the convention explaining that he's changed and would try to repeal at least part of the Defense of Marriage Act and the entire Patriot Act.

To prove this, he told delegates what he's been doing recently.

BOB BARR: And that is working to take the U.S.A. Patriot Act, drive a stake through its heart, shoot it, burn it, cut off its head, burn it again and scatter its ashes to the four corners of the world.

BRADY: Clearly, a majority of Libertarian delegates got the message, but they may have been thinking about more than whether Barr would make a good president. Patty Hotsinger(ph) is from Nampa, Idaho.

PATTY HOTSINGER: A presidential election isn't likely for the Libertarians. That would be a real fluke. But what we always hope for is that we have a candidate who can get a fair shake at delivering the message.

BRADY: Instead of a commander in chief, a lot of delegates were looking for someone with name recognition who might increase their party's ranks, a sort of promoter in chief.

Barr won the nomination, but the process wasn't easy. It took about four hours and six ballots. He beat back 13 challengers. Not everyone was pleased with the choices. Maryland delegate Lorenzo Gaztañaga explains.

LORENZO GAZTA: Right now, you're listening to the chance for a NOTA, which is none of the above. We always keep none of the above in our ballot. This is a permanent thing. Also, anybody can write in anything.

BRADY: As the delegates were voting their sixth ballot, one of the other candidates, Las Vegas sports handicapper Wayne Root, announced he was giving up his bid for the presidential nomination and joining Bob Barr as his running mate. Root stood with his arm around Barr on the convention floor.

WAYNE ROOT: Well first of all, politically we're right in the exact same ballpark. I think we're both mainstream Libertarians. We're both ex-Republicans who left the party. Well actually, I don't even like to say that. I think the party left us.

Unidentified Man: It sure did.

BRADY: That prompted Barr supporters to change their chant.

Unidentified People: (Chanting) Barr, Root, Barr, Root, Barr, Root.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

SMITH: Ladies and gentlemen, I want to present to you the 2008 nominee of the Libertarian Party for president of the United States, Bob Barr.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BRADY: Even during his acceptance speech, Barr sought to reassure skeptics.

BARR: This team, this candidate will not let you down. This will be an historic and positive campaign.

BRADY: Barr was asked if his presence could hurt the apparent Republican nominee, John McCain. Barr said he's not a spoiler, and he's running to win, but the Barr-Root ticket likely will hurt the GOP, according to Ron Rappaport. He's an expert on third parties at the College of William and Mary.

RON RAPPAPORT: Well, I think that this is an outcome that Democrats would very much like. Because what you have in both Root and Barr are two people who really are Libertarian Republicans.

BRADY: Barr has been out of office since losing his congressional seat in the 2002 primary. Now his political career appears to be revived. The same cannot be said for Mike Gravel. The former senator from Alaska dropped out of the Democratic race for president to become one of the 14 Libertarian candidates. The 77-year-old Gravel said this was his last campaign. Jeff Brady, NPR News, Denver.

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

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