The GOP's own Nader nightmare

Published October 30, 2004 7:33PM (EDT)

In a final pre-election push, Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik may have a shot at derailing Bush the way Nader did Gore in 2000.

Badnarik is spending $500,000 on advertising in select swing states, and by his campaign's own admission, he's targeting conservatives with commercials on Fox News Channel. One TV spot begins with a man at his kitchen table throwing down a newspaper in disgust and telling his wife "That's it! There's no way I'm voting for Bush again. He claimed to be a compassionate conservative, but what kind of conservative runs half-trillion dollar-a-year deficits, or gets us into an unwinnable war?"

The campaign's communications director, Stephen Gordon, expects Badnarik to siphon a substantial number of Republican votes. "There's a lot of disconnect between true conservatives and the Bush government over deficit spending and the war," Gordon told War Room. "Bush's support is very weak, and I think the Libertarian factor is going to be pretty significant this year. People are dying, and our supporters are very, very, opposed to the war in Iraq."

Of course, it's not that the libertarians are fond of Kerry. "We hate 'em both," Gordon says, speaking for himself and his wife. Badnarik's platform opposes welfare, most taxation and virtually any infringement on individual liberties; his official position on gun control is, "Don't even THINK about taking my guns!"

But Republicans have more reason than Democrats to be worried. Badnarik is on the ballot in nearly every state, while Nader has only qualified for 35. And while polls show that Nader's support has declined since the last election, Badnarik is likely to do better than the Libertarians did in 2000: In the few voter surveys that bother to include him as a candidate, some have shown him pulling in one percent support nationally. A Rasmussen poll commissioned by the Badnarik campaign showed him with 2 percent of the vote in Wisconsin, 1 percent in Colorado, 3 percent in Nevada, and as much as 5 percent in New Mexico. And that was before the Libertarians started their advertising blitz. The expectation that Badnarik will nab more votes from Bush than Kerry has led to some alliances with Democrats, such as "Operation Wisconsin Blue" -- an effort to raise Democratic money for ads targeting Wisconsin conservatives.

"In as many swing states as possible," Gordon says, "we'd like to have our vote total be greater than the margin of difference between Bush and Kerry." Playing the role of Bush spoiler would finally get the Libertarians some big press coverage, Gordon says -- and if the election is as close as the polls are showing, they may get their chance.

By Jeff Horwitz

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