Bob Barr's Libertarian presidential campaign is poised to play a serious role in this year's elections, with early polls showing him taking away enough votes from Sen. John McCain to give Democrats a chance to win states that should be safely Republican.
Polls in Georgia and North Carolina over the last two weeks show Mr. Barr winning 8 percent and 6 percent respectively of the presidential vote, and in both cases helping keep likely Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama within striking distance of Mr. McCain in those states — which, taken together, account for more electoral votes than Florida, Pennsylvania or Ohio.
"Barr does throw a monkeywrench in Republican plans in states people otherwise take for granted as Republican states," said Matt Towery, a former political adviser to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and CEO of InsiderAdvantage, an Atlanta-based polling and political analysis firm that conducted the Georgia poll.
Mr. Towery said North Carolina and Georgia are exactly the places that Mr. Barr could put in play: both have high African-American populations that Mr. Obama can tap to boost his turnout numbers, and have conservative-leaning voters whose dissatisfaction with President Bush could lead them to a third-party candidate.
The Georgia poll, taken just before Mr. Barr secured the Libertarian nomination, gave Mr. McCain 45 percent support, Mr. Obama 35 percent and Mr. Barr 8 percent. In North Carolina a Public Policy Polling survey released Monday found Mr. McCain at 43 percent, Mr. Obama at 40 percent and Mr. Barr at 6 percent. The poll's authors said Mr. Barr's support appeared to come particularly from independents who previously had broken for Mr. McCain.
"It's a long way until the election but the early indication is that Bob Barr's presence on the ballot could be a good sign for whoever ends up as the Democratic nominee," said Dean Debnam, president of the poll. "He's likely to siphon off more voters who would otherwise be inclined to vote for McCain than he is from Clinton or Obama."
Mr. Barr is a former Republican congressman from Georgia who switched to the Libertarian Party in 2006. He collected his new party's presidential nomination on the sixth ballot on May 25.