Monday, June 11, 2007 | 7:05 a.m.
Wayne Root doesn't drink, smoke, take drugs or play poker on the Internet.
(I know, I know. Sounds like a typical Saturday night for some Las Vegans.)
Root will, he says, "defend to the death" your right to engage in any of those activities.
After making his name - and fortune - as a TV sports prognosticator, selling advice to football gamblers on which way to bet against the point spread, Root is mounting a run for president in 2008 on the Libertarian ticket with individual freedom at the heart of his campaign message.
Already Root is a betting favorite to not only win the Libertarian presidential nomination but also attract the most votes of any Libertarian candidate ever, according to - who else? - offshore oddsmakers. (Betting on politics is not permitted in Nevada.)
"I want Wayne Root to become the new face of the Libertarian Party," Root said at his home in the Anthem section of Henderson. "The Libertarian Party has always had good ideas, but it needs someone who's a great communicator, someone who can raise money, someone who is a salesman. That's where I come in."
Until last year Root was a stalwart Republican. He even wrote a book called "Millionaire Republican" and named his youngest child in honor of Ronald Reagan.
Root became disenchanted with the GOP in recent years, however, and gravitated toward the Libertarian Party, with its fiscally conservative, socially liberal message that suited him as a gambler and as a businessman.
"If there's a gun to my head and I have to make a choice between the Republican and Democratic parties, I'd choose the Republican Party," Root said. "But the sad truth is that the main thing both parties are interested in is gaining power for themselves and staying in power. The only way that both parties know how to do that is to continually increase the size of government."
The turning point for Root came last year, he said, when Republican leaders in Congress successfully pushed for the passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which aims to crack down on online gambling by Americans by restricting financial transactions linked to Internet gaming sites.
"The gambling bill was the last straw," Root said. "I've been a Republican my whole life, but I thought that bill was the antithesis of what the Republican Party should stand for - keeping the government out of the private lives of American citizens."
The new law drew the ire of Americans who bet sports and play poker or casino-type gambling games online.
Root figures at least 10 million people in the United States play Internet poker, and he hopes to tap them as his base.
Although Root has had some discussions with 2004 World Series of Poker champion Greg Raymer about Raymer possibly serving as a running mate, he doesn't want to foster the impression that he's pushing for an all-gambling, all-the-time ticket.
"People might think it's funny if two gamblers are running," Root said. "But online gambling is not the big issue. What it represents is the big issue: freedom."
In courting online poker players, Root says he wants to align his campaign with the Poker Players Alliance, a nonprofit political organization that has signed former Sen. Al D'Amato as its chairman.
"My No. 1 wish would be for all forms of online gambling to be legal, the way it is in England," Root said. "But if we can't get that right away, I'd be willing to settle for a 'carve-out' for poker as a game of skill."
Because he's best-known to sports bettors as a meticulously coiffed talking head with an expensive suit hyping the latest "game of the week" on cable TV, and outside the gambling world mostly as a "Las Vegas oddsmaker," with all the baggage that phrase carries, Root knows his presidential candidacy will raise some questions.
Starting with, is Wayne Root serious?
"I'm very serious, although I realize the odds of any third-party candidate winning the presidential election in 2008 are very slim," Root said. "But if I can make some noise as a third-party candidate, maybe those odds can get a lot better in 2012, 2016 or even 2020."
Root, influenced by Barry Goldwater and his book, "The Conscience of a Conservative," hopes to revive Goldwater's conservative ideas.
"I believe Goldwater had the single greatest message in politics, but unfortunately it got lost," Root said. "Part of that was because the TV age didn't suit Goldwater well. He looked like everyone's stern grandfather.
"Without a great messenger, the message gets lost."