ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
While Barack Obama and John McCain get nearly all the media coverage, they are not the only ones running for president. Today, a handful of the best known third party and independent candidates plan to gather at the National Press Club for a display of unity - well, partial unity. In the end, one of them was a no-show.
NPR's Ari Shapiro explains what happened and what didn't.
ARI SHAPIRO: First, the convener of this motley crew, Republican Congressman Ron Paul from Texas.
(Soundbite of applause)
SHAPIRO: The audience gave him a standing ovation. In the presidential primaries, Paul raised millions of dollars on the Web. He mobilized legions of young voters to his cause. But Paul is now running for re-election to his seat in Congress unopposed as a Republican. He said no to supporters who wanted him to keep running for president and he refused a last-minute appeal from the Republicans.
Representative RON PAUL (Republican, Texas): It was a bit of a surprise to me because the request was that I endorse John McCain today.
SHAPIRO: Paul said the call came from his old Texas colleague, former Senator Phil Gramm, who failed to sell him on McCain.
Rep. PAUL: Essentially, he supports none of my positions.
SHAPIRO: Paul did not endorse anyone candidate specifically today. Instead, he endorsed outside candidates generally. Three of them sat next to him. A fourth who was expected to show up did not, but more on that in a bit.
First, the lineup. Representing the Green Party, former Democratic congresswoman from Georgia, Cynthia McKinney.
Ms. CYNTHIA McKINNEY (Former Democratic Congresswoman, Georgia): How is it that we can entrust the solutions to the problems that confront our country today to those who are complicit in their creation?
SHAPIRO: Representing the Constitution Party, a former leader in Jerry Falwell's group called the Moral Majority, Chuck Baldwin.
Mr. CHUCK BALDWIN (Former Leader, Moral Majority): We're not faced with the choice between the lesser of two evils. We're faced with the choice of the evil of two lessers.
SHAPIRO: And from no party at all, consumer advocate and frequent presidential candidate Ralph Nader.
Mr. RALPH NADER (Consumer Advocate): So-called dissenting third party and independent candidates are pressing forward redirections in our country that are supported by a majority of the people.
SHAPIRO: These men and women come from backgrounds about as different as you can imagine, but they did find things to agree on. Here's Ron Paul.
Rep. PAUL: The Iraq war must end as quickly as possible with removal of all our troops from the region. We must initiate the return of our troops from around the world, including Korea, Japan, Europe and the entire Middle East.
SHAPIRO: The rival candidates also agree to strengthen civil liberties, ban torture and eliminate the federal deficit. This was not a wholly typical press conference. At one point, an elderly man in a Ron Paul hat and T-shirt tottered in front of the podium and paused for cameras. The second question from the media came from a news outlet that, like these candidates, does not typically get much attention.
Ms. MADISON HARTKE-WEBER (Scholastic Kids Press Corps): Hello. My name is Madison Hartke-Weber and I'm with the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.
SHAPIRO: So back to that empty chair. It was set for Bob Barr, former Republican congressman from Georgia. He's the Libertarian Party's presidential nominee. Ron Paul said he was expecting Barr to show up.
Rep. PAUL: I understand Bob Barr's on his way or will be here shortly.
SHAPIRO: Bob Barr did show up, but only to hold his own separate press conference.
Mr. BOB BARR (Former Republican Congressman, Georgia): I'm not interested in third parties getting the most possible votes. I'm interested in Bob Barr as the nominee for the Libertarian Party getting the most possible votes and a sufficient number of votes in order to dramatically, positively and substantively influence public policy in this country in the years ahead.
SHAPIRO: Barr also announced that he'd invited Ron Paul to be his running mate. Paul was a Libertarian nominee in 1988. He declined an invitation to run for the party's nomination this year. Barr said he expect that Paul will decline this invitation, too.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.