If you overhear something sounding like a bar-none strategy from Barack Obama and the Democrats, be advised that it will be spelled differently.
The reference actually will be to a couple of old Georgia boys, Bob Barr and Sam Nunn.
Barr is a former Republican congressman from Georgia. Before that he was a U.S. attorney across much of Georgia.
As a grandstander on the House Judiciary Committee, you didn’t want to get caught between him and a television camera during the mid-1990s when Bill Clinton was getting impeached. He was sanctimonious, ubiquitous and rather ridiculous.
So now Barr, claiming to be distressed over the lack of real conservatism among modern-day Republicans, has become the Libertarian candidate for president in November. The issue is whether that might help elect Obama.
Third-party candidates for president can’t ever win. They can’t even cop a single state, except for George Wallace’s Southern showing in 1968, which was driven by racism and that the Republicans hadn’t yet reflected their Southern Strategy and their Silent Majority.
Ross Perot got 19 percent in 1992, quite credible, but garnered not a single solitary electoral vote.
What these third-party candidates can do is hurt one of the major candidates. That’s the case both in the popular vote, which counts for nothing, and, more decisively, in the occasional state that might be turned from red to blue, or vice versa, by the addition of a small third factor in the equation.
It happens that Barr, as a disaffected Republican and conservative, will hurt the Republicans more than the Democrats. That’s especially so considering that John McCain, the Republican nominee, is, when not running for president, a centrist.
It further happens that one element of Obama’s supposed “new” politics is that he thinks he can compete to win in a few states previously solid for the Republicans. He looks to places where he can mobilize African-Americans and appeal to young people and moderate suburbanites worried about gasoline prices and so forth.
He wants more options. He doesn’t want to have to draw to an inside straight like John Kerry, who pinned everything on Ohio.
Virginia is such a possibility for Obama. North Carolina, maybe. Georgia is not quite such a state unless someone — a former Republican congressman from that state, perhaps — runs as a third-party candidate and gets, oh, a measly 6 percent, all peeled directly off McCain.
What if, on top of that, Obama mobilized African-Americans in Georgia and made inroads among all those usual Republican voters in the Atlanta suburbs and exurbs? And what if, for good measure, he picked a once-prominent former U.S. senator from Georgia by the name of San Nunn as his running mate?
Georgia is not chopped liver electorally. It’s 15 votes. That’s a 30-vote swing if Obama takes them, meaning 15 for him he shouldn’t have won and 15 that McCain simply had to have but didn’t get.
Nunn, you might remember, was the leading Democratic thinker on defense issues. He is hawkish in the old Scoop Jackson mold. He would fortify Obama’s vulnerable military and foreign policy credentials.
The problem is that Nunn is rusty, having been out of national politics since 1996. Another problem is his age, nearly 70, which still places him south of McCain. A third problem is that he largely drew up that don’t ask, don’t tell thing. Finally, he’s not what you’d call exciting.
Some of his friends think he’d be a better fit as secretary or state or secretary of defense.
But Barr is from Georgia. If he is to fashion any significant erosion anywhere, it ought to be where he lives. And that’s 15 electors that McCain can’t bear to lose.
In mathematical and geographic terms, Nunn may be the guy.
John Brummett, an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock, is author of “High Wire,” a book about Bill Clinton’s first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.