By Eric Pianin
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 4:00 PM
Bob Barr, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee, offered a scathing critique of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) today and predicted he would garner substantial conservative Republican support in a handful of battleground states critical to McCain in his campaign against Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.).
Barr, a one-time conservative Republican House member from Georgia who broke with the Bush administration and many of his former congressional colleagues, blasted McCain for his support of the war in Iraq, his energy policies and his stand on reducing government spending.
"With regard to domestic policy, Sen. McCain really has put forward nothing that would indicate he believes in dramatically shrinking the size and cost of the government," Barr said during an interview on washingtonpost.com's "PostTalk" program. "He does talk a great game about doing away with earmarks, but that really does not get near to the heart of the matter of the massive federal spending, the massive federal debt and the deficits we're running."
Barr is hoping to become the beneficiary of much of the support and some of the campaign funds generated by Libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) during his surprisingly vigorous bid this year for the Republican presidential nomination. Barr said "we really do" see an opportunity to match or exceed Paul's performance in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Indiana and West Virginia, where Paul picked up between eight percent and 15 percent of the Republican primary vote.
No Libertarian Party candidate has ever won more than a million votes nationwide in a presidential general election, but Barr believes he could improve on that with strong showings in the West, Southwest, and a handful of southern and Northeastern states.
"We see this (potential) not just in Ron Paul's very significant vote-getting capability in those states and those areas, but also in Sen. (Hillary) Clinton's ability to dramatically take votes against Senator Obama in the Democrat primaries," he said. "These are states with a lot of Second Amendment enthusiasts and blue-collar Democrats who are much more likely to adopt a Bob Barr message of strong support for civil liberties, smaller government and so forth."
Barr, 59, for years was a conservative Republican foot soldier in the House who strongly supported the war in Iraq, was a booster of the Patriot Act that strengthened the government's domestic surveillance powers, backed measures to ban gay marriage and voted to block the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
But since renouncing the GOP and embracing the anti-government tenets of the Libertarian party a couple years ago, Barr has flip-flopped repeatedly and now strongly opposes the war, condemns the Patriot Act as a violation of civil liberties, criticizes efforts to restrict gay rights, and even favors the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.
Barr said that "the tremendous growth" of federal government powers since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks "has so dramatically shrunk the sphere of personal liberty in this country ... that it has really caused myself and many other Americans ... to take a much harder look at government power than we did in the past."