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Reverend right: Chuck Baldwin hopes to continue the Ron Paul revolution.

WITH HIS CONSERVATIVE SUITS and light-rimmed spectacles, Chuck Baldwin looks more like a Baptist preacher than a presidential candidate. In fact, he is both. He is also the host of the radio talk show "Chuck Baldwin Live" and columnist for such popular websites as WorldNetDaily and VDARE. Since clinching the Constitution Party's nomination in Kansas City this spring, Baldwin has been trying to add another line to his resume: John McCain's worst nightmare.

"We're seeing a lot of dissatisfaction with the two major parties," Baldwin says, citing a Rasmussen poll that shows 58 percent of the American people would consider voting for a third party. "I'm hearing from many conservatives that they're not going to hold their nose and vote for John McCain this year." He is similarly critical of President George W. Bush and the Republicans in Congress: "They had the entire government but not only did they do nothing to promote the true agenda of conservatism, in practicality, they did the opposite."

There is one notable exception to Baldwin's indictment of GOP elected officials: Congressman Ron Paul of Texas. "I was very supportive of Ron's campaign in the primaries," he says. "I campaigned for him personally. I believe I am the only presidential candidate who did that." Paul's ardent grassroots following raised millions of dollars and helped him collect over 1.2 million votes in his long-shot presidential campaign. Baldwin hopes to be their man in November.

He may seem an unlikely revolutionary, but his views and the Constitution Party's platform bear more than a passing resemblance to Paul's: unapologetically pro-life, opposed to amnesty for illegal immigrants and trade agreements that compromise American sovereignty, in favor of getting out of both the United Nations and the 16th Amendment (replacing the income tax with nothing), and strictly limiting the federal government to its enumerated powers. The Constitution Party also advocates a noninterventionist foreign policy, regarding all undeclared wars as unconstitutional and the Iraq War in particular as ill advised. It's hard to imagine a stronger contrast with McCain, for whom the Bush tax cuts were too much, the Iraq War not enough, and amnesty just right.

The foreign-policy planks of the platform survived a challenge at the Constitution Party's national convention in April. For a brief time, the party's only declared presidential candidate was perennial GOP office-seeker Alan Keyes. While Keyes's past forays into electoral politics had ended badly--his 2008 Republican presidential candidacy was a bigger disaster than his 2004 Illinois Senate race against Barack Obama--some Constitutionalists were tempted to nominate him anyway. Keyes was a prominent Republican defector and would have been the biggest name ever to grace the Constitution Party's presidential ticket. He is a popular speaker on the pro-life circuit and could potentially siphon a large number of Christian conservative votes away from McCain.

Unfortunately, there was one major problem: Keyes supported a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq and otherwise disagreed with the party on foreign policy. He was also characteristically determined to show his new party the error of its ways. One by one, other relatively well-known candidates like "Ten Commandments Judge" Roy Moore and conservative author Jerome Corsi decided to pass on the race. Baldwin was a reluctant candidate, but he campaigned as an antiwar conservative and full-throated supporter of the party's platform.

Here Ron Paul enters the picture once again. Although Keyes's ability to win an unprecedented amount of support for the Constitution Party was highly questionable--his GOP primary vote totals tumbled from just over 1 million in 2000 to about 60,000 this year--he was nevertheless an attractive prospect for some members of a small party that has never broken 200,000 votes nationally. But delegates opposed to Keyes's nomination, including party founder Howard Phillips, countered by citing Paul's fundraising success and Internet popularity--clearly, they argued, there was a large audience for antiwar conservatism, even if it had to be represented by a lesser-known candidate. Baldwin ended up winning the nomination with 74 percent of the vote, stunning Keyes and his supporters.

Though far from a celebrity, Baldwin isn't a stranger in conservative Christian circles. The founder and pastor of Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola, he received his bachelor's degree from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University and served as state chairman of the Moral Majority in Florida. The Constitution Party nominated him for vice president on a ticket headed by Michael Peroutka in 2004. "He was a great contribution to my campaign, and I think he is very qualified to be president," says Peroutka. "Chuck Baldwin understands the American view of law and government. He's constitutionally literate and has actually read the Constitution, unlike his opponents." Former senator Bob Smith, who represented New Hampshire for two terms as a Republican, hasn't endorsed anyone in the 2008 race but admires Baldwin. "I do like him and share most of his conservative and constitutional principles," he says.

The Paul movement and broader conservative discontent with the GOP give the Constitution Party a chance for its best election result yet. This year's race is the most favorable issue environment for a third-party challenge on the right since at least 1992, if not 1968. Behind the scenes, people who were active in organizing "money bombs" for Paul and bankrolling conservative causes are expressing interest in Baldwin. Students for Baldwin groups are beginning to crop up on college campuses. "The one at Louisiana State University, where I go to school, has over 250 members," says Baldwin's national youth coordinator, Trent Hill. He notes that organizing hasn't yet begun in earnest.

But Baldwin faces competition for the Paul vote. Libertarian Party nominee Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman, has much higher name recognition and is actually registering in major polls. Baldwin can claim greater ideological purity--unlike Barr, he opposed the war and the PATRIOT Act from the beginning--but he will have a harder time acquiring state ballot access and gaining national media coverage. While all third parties attract oddballs, Barr has done a much better job than Baldwin of distancing himself from his party's fringe. Congressman Paul has not endorsed a presidential candidate yet, though he has hinted a vote for either Barr or Baldwin would be fine with him. "I'm glad Bob is in the race," says Baldwin, who argues it is a sign that there are "others vying for our message."

Internal battles have also roiled the Constitution Party. Originally founded in 1991 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party, it is actually a federation of right-wing state parties. In 2006, affiliates in Nevada, Idaho, and Colorado ran candidates who favored legal abortion in cases of rape, incest, and when the mother's life is at stake. No-exceptions pro-lifers tried unsuccessfully to have these states disaffiliated from the national party. When this failed, nine state parties led by stringent pro-lifers disaffiliated, though in some of these states they have reorganized and re-affiliated. "The Constitution Party itself is struggling," says Peroutka. In California, the outgoing chairman of the American Independent Party has been trying to list Keyes as the nominee rather than Baldwin.

Small disagreements can result in serious ruptures because Constitution Party leaders spend more time focusing on first principles than political strategy. At times they seem to think strategy is unnecessary. Baldwin quotes John Quincy Adams, "Duty is ours, results are God's." Peroutka sounds a similar theme: "When people would tell me I didn't have a chance, I'd say I don't believe in chance. I believe in Divine Providence." The party has contested four presidential elections and never won more than 185,000 votes (Howard Phillips in 1996).

That said, the Baldwin camp isn't leaving everything up to divine intervention. They have been studying the electoral map, making plans to campaign heavily in large states like California and Michigan as well as states with a substantial Paul vote, like Idaho and Montana. In the last state, a Constitution Party member, Rick Jore, holds the balance of power in the House of Representatives. But a major part of the Baldwin strategy amounts to offering anti-McCain conservatives, who are not insignificant in number, a principled alternative.

Baldwin and his supporters appreciate the formidable obstacles. They realize they will face something close to a media blackout--the candidate describes the press as having a "death grip" over political debate--which they hope to counter with the Internet. They also understand that much of the coverage they do get will be hostile. Asked if he has any advice for his former running mate, Peroutka laughs, "He'll need a thick skin!"

"After four years of broken promises, abandoning historic conservatism, and betraying their 2000 platform," Baldwin contends, "there is no future for conservatives and constitutionalists in the Republican Party." The future, he argues, belongs to mavericks like Paul and third-party movements like the Constitution Party. "This could be our breakout year," he says. "It won't be because of me. I think our message is special." This modest assessment sounds very much like the Texas doctor Baldwin hopes to emulate.

W. James Antle III is associate editor of The American Spectator.
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Title Annotation:Election
Author:Antle, W. James, III
Publication:The American Conservative
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 14, 2008
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