Greens May Add to Democrats' Woes

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Democrats hoping the Green Party would stay out of the 2004 presidential race appear to be out of luck. At the Greens' national committee meeting held in Washington, D.C., over the weekend, the discussion focused more on who and how, rather than whether or not, to run. Ralph Nader and former Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney are the best-known of those considering a bid for the party's nomination, but at least four others — three of whom appeared at a candidate forum during the meeting — are ready to enter the fray.

In strategy discussions last Friday, party activists were asked to stand in different parts of the room according to the option they favored: run a presidential candidate in an all-out nationwide campaign; run only outside battleground states to avoid siphoning crucial votes from the Democratic Party candidate; or simply support whichever Democrat gets the nomination. Running an all-out campaign was the overwhelming favorite. Some Greens — including Nader, the party's candidate in 2000 — have indicated they could support Rep. Dennis Kucinich, one of the pack of Democratic presidential hopefuls. But, said Green Kevin McKeown, mayor pro-tem of Santa Monica, "waiting for the Democratic Party to nominate Dennis Kucinich is like worrying about what brand of ice skates to buy in case hell freezes over." Also weighing on the decision are strict ballot rules in some states that would preclude the Greens from putting up candidates for local races if they don't offer a presidential candidate.

But the party is well aware of the controversy a decision to run could cause among liberal and leftwing voters. Green officials bristle at being labeled "spoilers" for siphoning votes away from Democratic nominee Al Gore in 2000. A room full of them at the national committee meeting erupted when an NPR reporter asked why the Patriot Act shouldn't be considered a direct consequence of 2.8 million people voting for Nader. Al Gore's inability to win even his home state of Tennessee was at least as much a factor, one replied — and besides, Gore did win the popular vote.

Still, the Green machine, such as it is, concerns many Democrats. "We've got to get together with them," worries a prominent Democratic fundraiser, who, like many in his party, believes that if Bush is to be beaten, it will be by a very narrow margin. Green Party registration has grown from 200,000 in 2000 to 280,000 now, with the number of Greens elected to various public offices jumping from 80 to 179 in the same period — and this despite the fact that opinion polls consistently show the environment lagging behind the economy, terrorism, education and other issues among voters ' priorities. Green voters have not gone unnoticed by Democratic presidential hopefuls: At a June forum on the environment sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters and its California affiliate, several of them said they thought the Democrats would have to find a better way to frame the issues the Green Party cares about in order to win those voters back. Last fall, Rev. Al Sharpton was featured at a Green-backed alternative event to the U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Madison, WI, where he praised the Greater Milwaukee Green Party.

What's missing, though, is any high level contact by the Democratic candidates or the Democratic National Committee with Green leaders, and those leaders remain highly skeptical of the Dems. Green Party co-chairman Ben Manski said over the weekend that the Democratic Party has been trying to thwart the Greens at every turn. Among other actions, Democrats have worked to toughen the standards for third-party candidates to get on the ballot, even for downticket races, in numerous states, and they have used the redistricting process to subvert a Green member of the Maine legislature, Manski said. Asked for comment, the DNC did not respond.

Following last weekend's meeting, the Greens plan to hold primaries and caucuses on the same schedule as the two major parties in most states. Their nominating convention is scheduled for next summer in Milwaukee.