While the nation's two major political parties bicker over name-calling, a collection of smaller third-parties came together Wednesday in a so-called unity event that, in the end, only produced yet more bickering.
Supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a conservative who made a run for the Republican presidential nomination, were fuming Wednesday over what they said was a last-minute decision by Libertarian Party candidate Bob Barr to skip a press briefing with three other long-shot candidates designed to challenge the election dominance of Democrats and Republicans.
Mr. Barr, at his own solo news conference an hour later, said he passed on the group effort for fear it would "dilute" his candidacy and reduce his party's influence after the November election.
The four candidates — including independent consumer activist Ralph Nader, Green Party nominee; Cynthia McKinney, a former Democrats congresswoman from Georgia, and Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party — were supposed to endorse a quartet of principles drafted by Mr. Paul on issues ranging from ending the war in Iraq and cutting the national debt to reforming the Federal Reserve System.
"By coming together, we represent a majority of the American people. We deserve to be heard. We deserve to be in the [presidential] debates," Mr. Paul said.
Mr. Barr said he did not oppose the Paul statement of principles, but said he was trying to maximize his party's vote count in November and its clout with the new administration. He noted that the platform of Reform Party nominee H. Ross Perot helped shape the debates on welfare reform and federal spending after he won nearly a fifth of the vote in the 1992 presidential election.
"We can endorse these principles, but we also think it is important not to dilute our message. The goal is to amass as large a percentage of votes as possible to affect policy. You can't do that by a collection of amorphous groups," Mr. Barr said.
The former Georgia Republican lawmaker said he had offered the Libertarian vice-presidential nomination to Mr. Paul, saying current running mate Wayne Allyn Root had agreed to step aside if the Texan joined the ticket.
Mr. Paul ran for president under the Libertarian banner in 1988, but is seeking re-election this year to his Texas congressional seat.
"We don't anticipate he'll join us," said Mr. Barr, who insisted he had never promised to attend Mr. Paul's unity event, but at least two of Mr. Paul's supporters said they were dropping their support of Mr. Barr because of his failure to appear.
"I think he's as arrogant as George W. Bush," one said heatedly after the end of Mr. Barr's press briefing.
Dan Rasmussen, an organizer of the Paul briefing, said Mr. Barr called just 30 minutes before the morning event to back out.
Mr. Paul, who attracted an ardent following during his failed Republican presidential run, revealed he had also turned down an appeal from the campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain to endorse the Republican standard-bearer.
Mr. Paul told reporters that fellow Texan Phil Gramm, a former senator and onetime top adviser to the McCain campaign, had called earlier this week asking him to endorse Mr. McCain because "he would do a little less harm" than Democratic rival Sen. Barack Obama.
Mr. Paul said he declined because "I didn't like the idea of 2 or 3 million people getting angry with me," referring to his supporters in the Republican primaries.