By David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Bob Barr and Ralph Nader, the best-known third-party presidential candidates, are on their way to getting onto most state ballots.
Barr, a former Republican congressman who is the Libertarian Party nominee, is on 34 ballots and hopes to be on 48 by Election Day, party spokesman Andrew Davis said. Nader, the longtime consumer advocate running as an independent, has submitted petitions to be on 23 ballots. He said Wednesday he hopes to be on at least 45 state ballots before Nov. 4.
Getting onto state ballots has long been an issue for third-party candidates. Republicans and Democrats are routinely on the ballot, but third-party candidates have to meet requirements such as submitting petitions of voters. "Ballot access is one of the unknown evils of the American electoral process," Davis said.
Nader spokesman Chris Driscoll said Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Oklahoma and Indiana pose challenges. They include the number of signatures required on petitions, upcoming deadlines and certification requirements. Davis said it's hardest to get on the ballot in West Virginia and Oklahoma.
Barr's campaign manager, Russell Verney, is no stranger to the ballot challenges. He was a top aide in the 1992 and '96 campaigns of Texas billionaire Ross Perot, whose fortune made it easier to hire people to collect voter signatures in all 50 states.
Nader said he is running because Barack Obama and John McCain have been "deficient" on "any aggressive crackdown on corporate crime, fraud and abuse." He said neither major party wants to scale back the "huge, bloated military budget."
"The country is essentially paralyzed," he said. "It can't respond to problems."
Barr could not be reached for comment. He has said he is running to curb big government. Barr has criticized the Iraq war and called the U.S. presence there an "occupation." He lauded the recent Supreme Court decision declaring gun ownership a personal constitutional right.
"There can't be change by electing a Republican or a Democrat," Verney said.
Both third-party candidates are blips in national polls: Nader had 3% and Barr hit 2% in an Associated Press-Ipsos Poll released Tuesday. Democrat Obama led Republican McCain 47% -41% in the same poll.
Nader won 97,488 votes in Florida during his 2000 bid — overwhelming the 537 votes that separated George W. Bush and Al Gore after the Supreme Court stopped a statewide recount.
Merle Black, a political scientist at Emory University, agrees with many Democrats who say Nader cost Gore the presidency. He's not sure what the third-party impact will be this year.
"I don't think either of these guys are going to do much," he said.
Black said Barr may have an effect in Georgia, where he won four terms in the House of Representatives. McCain leads state polls there by an average of 7 percentage points, according to RealClearPolitics.com. Obama has said he wants to be competitive in the traditionally "red" GOP state and has campaign staff on the ground.
Nader said he and Barr have discussed issuing a joint statement challenging Obama and McCain on some issues, such as subsidies to companies that the independent candidates call corporate welfare, an overhaul of the election system and post 9/11 curbs on civil liberties. Some of these issues are "still ignored by the two parties," Nader said.