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Bob Barr Gets It Going

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July 24, 2008

Libertarian Party Presidential candidate, Bob Barr, turned some heads when the July 6 Zogby Poll had him capturing 6% of the nationwide popular vote.  Given the fact that Barr has received almost no national media attention, some commentators began to take notice of this interesting candidacy.   Of particular concern is Barr’s impact on the races in those “battleground” states that draw attention in polls.  Conservative blogger, Kevin Tracy, has complained that the poll results listed on RealClearPolitics.com, do not disclose Barr’s numbers.  As for the “battleground” states, Zogby has Barr with 8% of the vote in Colorado, 7% of the vote in Ohio, 7% of the vote in McCain’s home state of Arizona, and 6% of the vote in Florida.  A July 22 Rasmussen Poll had Barr getting 5% of the vote in Georgia, in contrast with the July 8 Zogby result of 8% for Georgia.  MSNBC’s polling expert, Chuck Todd, reported that the July 23 MSNBC/Wall Street Journal poll results showing Barr with only 2% have a much greater margin of error than the results for a two-way race because only a “half-sample” was used for the four-way race that included Barr and Ralph Nader.  He suspected that a full sample would likely indicate a larger number for Barr.

So far, Barr is on the ballot in 31 states.  He has a fight underway to get on the ballot in West Virginia.  In Ohio, Federal Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr. held that the Ohio state Legislature failed to revise ballot rules after they were struck down as unconstitutional in 2006 by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Ohio Secretary of State, Jennifer Brunner (a Democrat) is seeking an expedited appeal.  Of course, the court hearing her appeal will again be the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, so a victory for Barr seems likely there, as well.

Barr has an interesting background that makes him well-suited for the Presidency at this time.  To start with, in 1966, he graduated from High School in Tehran, Iran.  In 1970 he received his Bachelor’s Degree, cum laude, from the University of Southern California.  He received a Master’s Degree in International Affairs from George Washington University in 1972.  He received his law degree from Georgetown in 1977.  During that time (1971 – 1978) Barr was employed by the Central Intelligence Agency.  Barr served in Congress as the Representative for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District from 1995 to 2003.  In Congress, he served as a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, as Vice-Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, as a member of the Committee on Financial Services and the Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.

Despite the lack of media attention, he is running a clever campaign.  On July 19, he made a surprise appearance at the Netroots Nation blogger conference, stealing a bit of attention from the “surprise” visit by Al Gore.  On July 22, while John McCain was visiting Manchester, New Hampshire, he drew a bit of attention away from McCain’s visit to that city by appearing there himself.  Mark Hayward of the New Hampshire Union Leader, reported on July 23 that Barr spent a good deal of time at a stop in Manchester, “explaining his disappointments with the way the war in Iraq and the Patriot Act turned out.”   Barr voted in favor of both the Patriot Act and the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  Although Barr is not yet on the ballot in New Hampshire, the Zogby Poll has him at 10 percent in that state.

As the campaign progresses, it will be interesting to observe where Barr gets his support.  MSNBC’s Chuck Todd pointed out that there is a component of “anti-Obama” voters among Barr’s supporters.  Whether this comes from racism, belief in the “secret Muslim” rumors, or a perceived lack of experience, will make for an interesting study.  It would also be interesting to ascertain whether any Obama supporters shifted their allegiance to Barr as a result of Obama’s vote in favor of the FISA “wiretap” bill.  Polls taken in the wake of that vote (July 11 Newsweek and July 13 Rasmussen) showed Obama’s support among independent voters dropping significantly.  Did they see Obama’s compromise on this issue as a lack of authenticity?

For now, Barr’s candidacy is perceived primarily as a threat to John McCain.  As Faye Fiore reported in the July 23 Los Angeles Times:

Barr is regularly compared to Ralph Nader, the Green Party spoiler who drew crucial votes from Democrat Al Gore in 2000.  Worried McCain supporters have begged Barr to drop out. The renegade responds with his famous bespectacled glare, referring to himself in the third person, as is his habit:  “The GOP has no agenda, no platform and a candidate who generates no excitement.  That’s not Bob Barr’s fault.”

When confronted about being a McCain “spoiler” during the July 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, Barr responded:

This is precisely the problem with the two-party system that we have here. They are always looking for someone to blame, other than themselves.

.  .  .  This preemptive blaming doesn’t do either party very well.   It’s an awfully weak position for the McCain campaign and the Republicans to be in months out from the election, already blaming me for their loss.

It will be interesting to watch what the pollsters can learn from Barr’s candidacy.  As Barr gets more publicity, his popularity is likely to increase.  If he can make it to 10 percent in a nationwide poll, he will be invited to participate in some of the debates.  That would be very interesting.

The Race Tightens

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July 14, 2008

Jonathan Darman’s July 11 article for Newsweek discusses that magazine’s latest poll, showing Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by only 3 percentage points.  Since this is probably within the poll’s margin of error (not discussed in the article) the two candidates are now in a statistical dead heat.   This is in sharp contrast with last month’s Newsweek poll, showing Obama with a 15-percent lead over McCain (51 to 36).  The July 13 Rasmussen poll showed each candidate with 46 percent.  Darman and other commentators struggled with this shift in popular opinion.  Darman noted:

But perhaps most puzzling is how McCain could have gained traction in the past month.  To date, direct engagement with Obama has not seemed to favor the GOP nominee.

Perhaps the explanation for McCain’s popularity bump is evident in the preceding text of Mr. Darman’s article, discussing Obama’s controversial position favoring the new FISA law.  Civil libertarians and the more liberal-leaning Democrats were outraged by Obama’s support for this bill.  The Obama camp believed that this disappointment would be short-lived, since those factions had no other alternative than to support Barack.  What these wizards failed to consider was the effect this betrayal would have on independent voters.  Hillary Clinton paid a high political price for her support of the Joint Resolution for the Use of Military Force in Iraq.  That Resolution was passed because there were too many Democrats in Congress who believed a vote against the Resolution would make them appear weak on national security.  It was that same fear of appearing weak on national security that drove Obama and other Democrats to vote in favor of the new FISA law.

In the age of YouTube.com, authenticity has become a politician’s stock in trade.  A politician’s denial of having made a statement (or of having played golf recently) can be easily rebutted with an audio-visual presentation of that politician’s own words or acts.  The lack of authenticity is perceived as a measure of dishonesty.  Concern for appearing weak is itself a sign of weakness. Obama’s support for the FISA bill tells me that he would indeed have voted in favor of the Iraq Resolution, had he been a member of United States Senate at the time.  Hillary Clinton learned her lesson from the Iraq Resolution controversy and voted against the FISA bill.  Nevertheless, had she been the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee, would she have voted the same way?

The information obtained from the recent Newsweek poll suggests that authenticity may have played a role in the popular opinion shift.  As Jonathan Darman pointed out:

In the new poll, 53 percent of voters (and 50 percent of former Hillary Clinton supporters) believe that Obama has changed his position on key issues in order to gain political advantage.

What may have come as a surprise to Obama’s advisors, was that the Democrat has lost popularity among independent voters.  Although these voters may not have been as heartbroken as the members of MoveOn.org, over Obama’s support for the FISA legislation, they may have detected the strong odors of weakness and inauthenticity.  As Mr. Darman observed:

In the new poll, McCain leads Obama among independents 41 percent to 34 percent, with 25 percent favoring neither candidate. In June’s NEWSWEEK Poll, Obama bested McCain among independent voters, 48 percent to 36 percent.

In other words, Obama lost his 12-point lead among independent voters and he now trails McCain among independents by 7 points.  McCain has apparently taken a page from the Bush playbook by deliberately making gaffes in order to appear less polished – and hence, more authentic to the voters.  (One example of this was his repeated conflation of the activities of Iranian operatives and those of Al-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq.)  McCain is appearing as “likeably” less articulate than his opponent, reinforcing the aura of authenticity.  The only way for the Obama camp to stay in this fight is to keep McCain’s own “flip-flops” in the public eye.  Taking “the high road” at this point appears to be political suicide.  Although it doesn’t make for a good slogan:  “Less of a flip-flopper than McCain” should become the theme for the Obama campaign.