AUSTIN, TEXAS — If Al Gore was the day’s biggest surprise, the runner-up would have to be Bob Barr.
Barr, the Libertarian Party’s nominee for president, is holding court right now in the third floor lobby, surrounded by a gaggle of fans. His reception is oddly affectionate for a former Republican. One blogger looks like he’s about to ask a question—instead, he asks for an autograph. Another hands Barr his cell phone. "Can you talk to my brother for a second?" Another guy wants to ask him about his appearance in Borat. While Barr is answering a question about wiretapping, a kid goes up behind him and poses like he’s about to beat him up while his friend takes a picture.
What brings him to town? Barr is giving the keynote address this evening at RightOnline, the rival conservative blogger conference being held across the city . His Netroots Nation visit wasn’t anticipated, but conference political director Josh Orton said he was welcome as long as he paid the regular entrance fee.
I ask Barr why he thinks Democrats would vote for him. He goes straight for the wedge issue. "There’s no candidate out there who consistently stands for individual liberties," he said. "You saw that with Obama’s embrace of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act."
But I have a different theory. Democrats might vote for Barr, but not because they like him. Rather, Barr’s candidacy is an opportunity for Democrats to split the right. Just like Rush Limbaugh told Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton and thus perpetuate Democratic tensions, Democrats in safe Democratic states—whose votes won’t make a difference anyway—could vote for Barr. If he gets five percent nationally, the Libertarians get public funds the next time around. No harm done to Obama; lots of harm done to Republicans.
Barr says he wouldn’t be opposed to such an effort. "It’s not my concern," he says. "We’ll take a vote, regardless of the motivation behind it."