Former Rep. Bob Barr is attempting to return to Congress after a 12-year hiatus with his bid Tuesday in the Republican primary for an open House seat in Georgia.
Best known as one of the House managers in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1998, Barr, 65, is considered likely to be one of the top two vote-getters in the primary for the seat of outgoing Rep. Phil Gingrey, who is stepping down to run for the Senate.
Barr and one of the other three leading GOP contenders in suburban Atlanta's 11th Congressional District would then meet in a runoff in July to determine their party's nominee.
The Republican most likely to make the runoff with Barr seems to be former state Sen. Barry Loudermilk, who resigned from office last year to campaign full-time for Congress. A U.S. Air Force veteran and small-businessman, Loudermilk has strong support among cultural conservatives and several tea party groups.
"When the federal government is spending $16,000 per minute, there is no way I'm going to vote to lift the debt ceiling without some big changes," Loudermilk told Newsmax on an issue that resonates with tea partiers.
The other leading contenders are Ed Lindsey, GOP whip in the state House, and businesswoman Tricia Pridemore, former executive director of Gov. Nathan Deal's Office of Workforce Development.
Most observers of Peach State politics who talked to Newsmax agree that Barr's high name recognition after more than 20 years in politics is the chief reason for his frontrunner status.
But the same observers also agree that Barr's controversial positions and associations in the past are also a reason he is so well known. Facing an opponent one-on-one in a runoff, they say, could be rough sledding for Barr.
"The good news for Bob Barr is everyone knows him," one local wag told Newsmax. "The bad news for Bob is that everyone knows him."
An opponent of the Patriot Act and supporter of the medical use of marijuana, Barr left the GOP to become the Libertarian Party nominee for president in 2008.
Barr backers note that Republicans who have left the party for third-party presidential runs have historically been welcomed back to their former political home.
Former GOP Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was the Libertarian nominee for president in 1988 but returned to the House as a Republican in 1997.
Rep. William "Liberty Bell Bill" Lemke, a North Dakota Republican, ran for president on the anti-New Deal Union Party ticket in 1936. He was re-elected to the House as a Republican in the same year.
But Barr critics say their opposition to the former congressman goes deeper than his brief third-party flirtation. They note, for example, that after losing a primary against Republican Rep. John Linder of Georgia in 2002, Barr worked as counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.
Erick Erickson, of RedState, a Loudermilk supporter, has also raised the issue of Barr's writing a letter in support of Eric Holder for attorney general in 2009.
"People thank me for the work I did with [the ACLU], which was on the Patriot Act," Barr told Newsmax last year. "It led to cutting back government surveillance and sunset positions [on the Patriot Act].
"I've also worked on issues related to the Patriot Act with the Eagle Forum, the National Rifle Association, and Americans for Tax Reform. Now, that doesn't mean we necessarily agree on every issue — only that we could work together on certain issues."
As for Holder, Barr wrote in Townhall that "my letter was based on my professional association with Holder during his time as an attorney in private practice during the Bush administration."
However, he added, "in June 2013, I was one of the first to call for Holder's resignation at the Department of Justice. I repeat that call today."
Barr cited Holder's role in Operation Fast and Furious and what he called "turning a blind eye to Black Panther voter intimidation" as two of the reasons he now says Holder must go.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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