Conventional wisdom says a Bob Barr Libertarian run for president will take votes from the Republican John McCain, and that's good for the Democratic nominee. It might not be that simple if November 4 is a nail-biter.
Former federal prosecutor and Georgia Republican congressman Barr can be loony, but he has turned into quite the articulate civil libertarian, opposed to everything from street cameras that take pictures of your license plate and then send you a speeding ticket, to the more onerous aspects of the Patriot Act. Plenty of Democrats feel the same way on these subjects. I know I do, although I wouldn't vote Barr for dog catcher.
Remember: even goofy Ron Paul's support crossed party lines and included disaffected liberals and moderates because of his strong (and, yes, principled) opposition to Iraq. This makes the Barr message (if he can raise enough cash to get it into the marketplace) appealing to a certain segment, particularly out west where the "leave me alone" philosophy has roots, and it's out west where Democrats (and certainly Obama's people) believe he and the Party stand to open up the electoral map in November.
Worst case scenario for Democrats next fall:
If Obama struggles with the Democratic base that bedeviled him in big-state primaries (working class Anglos, Catholics, Jews, and those over 45), and if McCain drops his "100 years in Iraq" plan, tacks back to the "maverick" middle and wins over some of these voters in states like Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, and if McCain's Arizona pedigree "checkmates" Obama in some western states, and if McCain's immigration stance isn't wholly anathema to the Latino community (he co-sponsored the bill with Ted Kennedy, after all), then anything that further eats into the Democratic candidate's potential tally is bad, even if it's also eating into McCain.
The 2004 Libertarian candidate got only 1% of the vote, yet if Barr comes close to Ralph Nader's independent neighborhood of 2000, he can hurt either major party at the margins in a close race since he's pro-life and pro-Defense of Marriage Act in addition to his civil libertarianism.
Let's take a key state: In 2004, George Bush beat John Kerry in Colorado, gaining its nine electoral votes, by only 100,000 votes out of 2 million cast. Democrats will rightly feel the love of the Rockies after their Denver convention this summer. Still, it doesn't take much to screw things up. After all, Ralph Nader got only 2.7% of the vote nationally in 2000, but it was his 100,000 votes in tight-as-a-tick Florida that led to the election ending up at the Supreme Court; Al Gore had the presidency in the bag otherwise.
Democrats can't afford that happening again any more than Republicans. Without a sugar daddy, Barr won't get traction. I'm reminded, however, that Ron Paul did surprisingly well at fundraising. We need to keep one watchful eye on these third-party types.