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Sunday September 17 7:57 AM ET
Libertarian Browne Possible White House Spoiler
By Michael Carney
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Few Americans have heard of Harry Browne, a former investment banker running for president under the banner of the Libertarian Party.
As a third-party candidate, Browne has been overshadowed by the Green Party's Ralph Nader (news - web sites), the Reform Party's Pat Buchanan (news - web sites) and even John Hagelin (news - web sites) of the Natural Law party. Yet some state polls show Browne is attracting as many voters as they do, if not more.
Independent polls in Colorado and Illinois show the two-time presidential candidate drawing support from three percent of voters, with Republican nominee George W. Bush (news - web sites) and Democratic nominee Al Gore (news - web sites) in a statistical dead heat.
``It would be nice if I got three percent in a state that was decided by one percent,'' Browne told Reuters, clearly relishing the idea he might play the role of spoiler.
Libertarian Party officials said Browne, who supports legalizing heroin and ending federal education subsidies, is enjoying unprecedented support. He won 485,759 votes in the 1996 presidential vote, less than one percent of the national tally.
``The highest a Libertarian presidential candidate has polled is what we are seeing right now,'' said George Getz, the party's national spokesman. ``We hope it is the start of a trend.''
David Kelley, head of the party's Illinois branch, said the polls show Browne and the Libertarians are finally breaking through.
``It's important from the standpoint of letting people know that when they vote for the Libertarian candidate their vote counts,'' said Kelley.
Not that Browne cares who wins.
``I didn't vote for 30 years because I did not see any difference between Republicans and Democrats,'' said Browne, who is doing little to encourage participation in the Nov. 7 presidential election.
``I don't blame people who don't vote today,'' he added. ''People should not be forced to choose between two candidates they don't like.''
Colorado party officials attributed Browne's support to local issues, saying that Republicans flooded into the Libertarian Party after the Republican-controlled legislature approved tough new gun control laws following the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School.
``They are very mad at the governor, and they are very mad at the Republican Party (news - web sites) ... for passing laws that chip away at the Second Amendment,'' said Bette Rose Smith, chairwoman of the 3,900 member Colorado Libertarian Party.
``I have a feeling that, if the race is close, we will lose our Republican voters (to Bush),'' said Brown.
As presidential candidates go, Browne lacks star quality and an instantly identifiable name. Nader is the media savvy consumer activist, while Buchanan is known to millions as a conservative television commentator and has just received $12.6 million from the federal government to finance his campaign.
``We think we will be able to entice Pat Buchanan and Ralph Nader into a three-way debate,'' said Browne. ``I think it ought to be a lot more interesting than the Bush-Gore debates.''
-- (firstname.lastname@example.org), September 17, 2000