Libertarian Party officials say the problems facing Republicans in former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's Texas district have created "the perfect storm" that could give their party its first victory in a congressional race.
Libertarian candidate Bob Smither got a boost yesterday when he was endorsed by former Rep. Bob Barr, a conservative Georgia Republican.
"In light of the less-than-conservative agenda that the Republicans in Congress have pursued, I'm delighted to support a Libertarian candidate, Bob Smither, who I think will most definitely stick to his small-government philosophy," Mr. Barr said yesterday in a telephone interview from his Atlanta law office. "I don't see him going to Washington and voting for bigger government the way so many Republicans have done."
A former federal prosecutor who gained national prominence in 1998 as one of the House Republicans chosen to present the impeachment case against President Clinton, Mr. Barr said the "unique situation" in the race caused him to back the Libertarian candidate.
Though Texas' 22nd District is strongly conservative -- Mr. DeLay got 55 percent of the vote in 2004 and 63 percent in 2002 -- the Republican Party removed its line from the ballot after courts ruled that it could not substitute another candidate for Mr. DeLay, who resigned from Congress under a cloud of scandal in June.
That leaves Mr. Smither, the Libertarian, as the only name on the ballot against the Democratic candidate, former Rep. Nick Lampson. Republicans say they will unite to support a write-in candidate. But Mr. Barr said that because "it's very unlikely that a write-in candidate can win," backing Mr. Smither is the best hope of ensuring that the district "continues to be represented by a conservative."
A fifth-generation Texan, Mr. Smither is a businessman who is well-known in the district south of Houston because of his work on behalf of missing children. His 12-year-old daughter, Laura, was abducted and killed in 1997, leading Mr. Smither and his wife to found a nonprofit organization, the Laura Recovery Center for missing children.
In an open letter sent Tuesday to Republicans in the district, Mr. Smither said that if elected he would vote for a Republican as House speaker.
"It appears at this point that Republicans may lose the majority in the House," Mr. Smither wrote. "If this occurs, a vote for liberal Democrat Nick Lampson will be a vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House."
Mr. Lampson has more than $2 million in campaign cash and has begun running TV ads. Republicans have yet to decide on a candidate in a midterm election that many Democrats say offers their best chance to recapture the House since losing it in 1994.
Several Republicans have offered themselves as write-in candidates for the seat, and Republican leaders in the district plan to gather tonight for a closed-door meeting at a church in a Houston suburb to decide which candidate to endorse.
Mr. Smither expressed doubt that any write-in candidate could be elected, noting technical difficulties presented by electronic voting. "They'll have to spell the name on an e-slate voting machine. They'll actually be listed as an independent, not a Republican," he said.
Mr. Smither said Mr. Barr's endorsement "shows that at least one very prominent Republican believes that there's a lot of common ground between how I feel and how conservative Republicans feel on a lot of issues."