ORLANDO, Fla. -- Libertarian Party leaders gave a standing ovation to former Rep. Bob Barr after the ex-Republican called for "a multidecade effort" to build a movement to make the party nationally competitive.
"The future of America is the future of the Libertarian Party," Mr. Barr told a weekend conference of state party chairmen. "And the future is bright."
The former congressman from Georgia, who recently became the Libertarian Party's regional representative in the Southeast, told a Saturday luncheon that many "real conservatives" have become disillusioned with Republicans.
"They are eager for a philosophical home," Mr. Barr said. "There are enough of them out there that a significant number can be weaned away" from the Republican Party.
More than 100 Libertarian officials and activists attended the three-day event at the Orlando International Airport Hotel and Conference Center that included a Friday meeting of the party's national committee and a Saturday presentation by longtime conservative organizer Richard Viguerie.
"Whenever conservatives are unhappy, bad things happen for the Republican Party," said Mr. Viguerie, author of "Conservatives Betrayed: How the Republican Party Hijacked the Conservative Cause."
Mr. Viguerie, whose pioneering direct-mail operations helped revolutionize political fundraising, emphasized the value of issue-oriented appeals in building a successful movement.
"You must give the voters a tune they can whistle," said Mr. Viguerie, who drew applause when he said of the 2008 Republican presidential candidates that Rep. Ron Paul of Texas "is the best of the lot." Mr. Paul was the 1988 Libertarian nominee for president.
During Saturday's luncheon, Libertarian Party National Chairman Bill Redpath discussed ways that the party could overcome such problems as ballot access and fundraising.
"The problem is that we are a minority party in a winner-take-all voting system," said Mr. Redpath, urging party activists to support "electoral reform" aimed at creating a system of proportional representation.
"We have to put our best faces forward in winnable races," said Shane Cory, who became executive director of the Libertarian Party last year. He emphasized the need to "build from the bottom up" by winning office at the state and local level, and agreed with Mr. Viguerie's stress on issue-oriented activism.
"We need to diversify and be able to address a broad range of issues," Mr. Cory said.
A Saturday-evening banquet featured a debate among five candidates for the 2008 Libertarian presidential nomination: Las Vegas oddsmaker Wayne Allyn Root, Florida businessman Daniel Imperato, Internet entrepreneur Mike Jingozian of Oregon, physics professor George Phillies of Massachusetts, and retired businessman Alben Link of New York.
Attendance at the conference was "slightly higher" than usual for an event in a non-election year, said Libertarian Party Political Director Stephen Gordon.