WASHINGTON — Bob Barr, the presidential nominee of the Libertarian Party, is not your usual fringe candidate.
For one thing, he's got a record as an elected official. Barr, at the time a conservative Republican, represented a suburban Atlanta congressional district from 1994-2003. And he became a national figure as a House leader of the impeachment effort against President Clinton.
But Barr also took positions in Congress that are at odds with the laissez-faire Libertarians, notably the war in Iraq. Barr voted in favor of the congressional war resolution in 2002, although he now says, "I never voted for an occupation of Iraq."
Barr's record has hurt him with some party faithful who still look to Ron Paul, the anti-war Texas Republican congressman and 1988 Libertarian Party presidential nominee who became an Internet sensation during his 2008 run for the GOP presidential nomination.
Paul, who suspended his presidential campaign earlier this year, is hosting a "Rally for the Republic" in Minneapolis on Sept. 2 during the Republican convention in St. Paul. Although he says he is not running for president and is not leaving the GOP, Paul is a galvanizing figure, and the motives and purpose of his rally remain unclear.
Paul almost certainly will not be endorsing GOP presumptive nominee John McCain, said Paul spokesman Jesse Benton.
"Dr. Paul is non-interventionist and does not want us intervening in the affairs of others," said Benton, referring to Paul, who is a physician. McCain is a strong supporter of the Iraq war. (Paul, whose wife has been hospitalized in Houston, was not available for comment.)
The rally at the Target Center, said Benton, is the next step in the congressman's Campaign for Liberty, a movement for limited government (tickets are $17.76).
"It's certainly good to have attention drawn to the issues of the Libertarian Party," said Barr, who will not be at the rally.
But will that translate into votes?
The Libertarian Party is the nation's third largest party, and Barr is on track to be on the ballot in 48 states. But he freely admits he is having trouble fundraising. Barr only raised $380,000 through the end of July, according to opensecrets.org, a nonpartisan website reporting on federal records. Paul, by contrast, raised $34.5 million in his presidential campaign run.
"Raising money has been very difficult," said Barr. "Being a third party candidate is very different. A lot of Republicans like to donate to Republicans. You just have to keep on plugging."
Barr's other big obstacle is getting into the three presidential debates, run by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The commission, an entity created by the Republican and Democratic parties, requires third party candidates have a 15 percent showing in polls to participate.
A Zogby poll in July had Barr at 6 percent, but other polls, including a recent Gallup poll, place him at 1 percent.
But in a close national election, he still could have an impact.
Barr did not join the Libertarian Party until 2006, but he has no qualms about dislodging Republican Party standard-bearer McCain — a possibility in states like New Hampshire, Colorado and Nevada, where Libertarians are polling 3 percent or higher.
"It's possible he could 'Naderize' McCain," said Steven Schier, political scientist at Carleton College in Minnesota, referring to Ralph Nader's impact on the 2000 presidential election when Democrat Al Gore lost Florida — and the presidency — by 537 votes. "It could be that a few thousand votes tip the balance."
Schier thinks that Barr's biggest problem is breaking out from the better-known Paul's shadow.
"It seems to me," Schier, "Paul's very much in his way."
The candidates' Web sites can be found at: