WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose antiwar campaign galvanized an army of young people during his Republican presidential run, is now something of a third-party power broker, with both the McCain team and the Libertarian Party vying for his support.
Paul held a news conference Wednesday to present a united front of minor-party presidential candidates — independent Ralph Nader, the Green Party's Cynthia McKinney and the Constitution Party's Chuck Baldwin — on issues important to him and to declare his preferred candidate, which turned out to be anyone but the Democratic or Republican nominees.
"Presidential elections turn out to be more of a charade than anything else," said Paul, adding there was no difference between the major-party candidates, Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama.
"We represent the majority of the American people," Paul said, referring to the 60 percent of eligible voters who don't cast a ballot.
Wednesday's event was not an effort to create a single third party — the four top minor parties are too far apart on other issues, such as health care, abortion and taxes. Rather, it's an attempt to stand up to the major parties and get attention so they can get into the presidential debates.
Paul revealed that former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, a McCain confidante, had asked him the day before the news conference to endorse the Republican nominee.
"He knew the answer was 'no,'" Paul said. "McCain doesn't support the positions I've supported for the last 30 years."
Meanwhile, Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr, who shares Paul's philosophy, was a no-show at the news conference, spoiling Paul's unity message. At a news conference of his own, Barr said he agreed on the "principles" of non-interventionism, privacy rights, reducing the national debt and controlling the Federal Reserve, but that they were "amorphous."
What Barr really wanted was Paul's endorsement, and he is even offering the Texan the vice-presidential spot on the Libertarian ticket. Barr's running mate, Wayne Root, has agreed to step aside, but Paul, the Libertarian Party's standard-bearer in 1988, has rebuffed all efforts to get him on the presidential ballot since he wrapped up his campaign in June. Paul did not directly address the vice-presidential offer.
With the general election a virtual dead heat, independents could tip the election in several states. Paul said he did not see any conflict with his being a Republican and his current efforts.
"What I'm doing is helping them as much as hurting them," he said of the Republicans.
Nader, close to being on the ballot in 45 states, welcomed the unity of the third parties.
"That's the beginning of a realignment of American politics," he said.
Nader and the others all complained about the difficulty of getting into the debates, which is determined by the Commission on Presidential Debates, created by the Democratic and Republican parties.
"Why are we rationing debates in this country?" Nader asked.
The Commission on Presidential Debates limits debate participants to candidates who have a 15 percent standing in the polls.
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