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It Takes a Strong Constitution to Run as a Libertarian

Times Staff Writer

Michael Badnarik is hardly a household name. But some analysts are wondering if the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee -- almost entirely absent from the national media’s consciousness -- might be pulling a Ralph Nader on the right.

Could Badnarik, a 50-year-old computer programmer from Austin, Texas, cost President Bush a key state or two by attracting the votes of some conservatives, much as Democrats worry about Nader siphoning liberal voters from Sen. John F. Kerry?

At the least, Badnarik’s potential appeal to some conservatives is undeniable.

Gun rights? Check. Free trade? Check. Lowering taxes? Badnarik wants to scrap the Internal Revenue Service. In fact, he would like to abolish most of the federal government, along with public schools and welfare.

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Badnarik got the Libertarian nomination after driving across the nation and explaining to audiences why he should be president, occasionally running out of cash to keep going.

Helped by an impressive debate performance in May at the nominating convention in Atlanta, Badnarik beat out two better-known opponents, producer Aaron Russo and talk show host Gary Nolan.

“To say I was a dark horse in the campaign is a blatant understatement,” Badnarik said recently while traveling to a speech at Willamette University in Salem, Ore.

Since his nomination, Badnarik has visited 42 states, secured ballot access in 48, raised nearly $1 million, and left some pollsters wondering about his possible effect on the election.

In a race in which a state or two is “decided by a hair,” Badnarik “could be the kingmaker,” said Larry Jacobs, director of the 2004 Elections Project at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute.

Jacobs said the Libertarian ticket would be fortunate to draw 1% of the vote nationwide. But “there may be a few battleground states where they’re able to reach 1% or even 2% ... perhaps tilting the [state] in John Kerry’s direction,” Jacobs said.

He cited Wisconsin as a possibility.

For his part, Badnarik has zeroed in on New Mexico and Nevada. He has aired television ads in both -- $60,000 in New Mexico, about $50,000 in Nevada -- and visited them.

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The 33-year-old Libertarian Party espouses fiscal conservatism and a dramatically reduced federal government, coupled with social progressivism, all under the umbrella of personal freedom.

Like any good Libertarian, Badnarik is a fan of the Constitution -- so much so that he developed an eight-hour Constitution class that he sometimes taught on the campaign trail to raise cash.

“We have this really crazy idea that the Constitution actually means something,” Badnarik said.

He advocates the rapid removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, arguing that America is “not supposed to be policeman of the world.” He disagrees with the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemption and would attack nations harboring terrorists only if presented with clear evidence of a threat.

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He also said that if the passengers aboard the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, had had guns, the terrorists “wouldn’t have gotten past the beverage cart.”

Badnarik favors legalizing drugs and considers a constitutional ban on gay marriage “bigotry.” Abortion is a stickier question among Libertarians, and Badnarik describes the party as split on the issue.

David Robinson, 26, an assistant manager at a Burger King, was among about 40 supporters standing in the spitting rain at a recent Badnarik rally on the Capitol’s steps in Salem.

He said he might have voted Republican were it not for the federal budget deficit that the Bush administration had incurred. “If the Republicans walked their own talk in terms of fiscal responsibility, then I could vote for more Republican candidates. But they don’t nationally,” Robinson said.

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The Bush campaign is not concerned about Badnarik’s possible effect on the president’s reelection chances.

“We’re focused on the contrast between President Bush and John Kerry,” campaign spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt said.

The Libertarian Party’s national numbers are small: Only 600 hold elected office nationwide, and the party garnered about 400,000 votes, or .36%, in 2000.

Badnarik has struggled to make his voice heard. He was arrested with Green Party presidential hopeful David Cobb three weeks ago trying enter the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, but the stunt hardly made news.

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“Michael has jokingly said we’d have to set ourselves on fire in the middle of the street to get attention,” said Badnarik’s assistant, Jon Airheart. “Of course, that only works once.”


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