In San Francisco recently, a group of minority business owners sat down to hear gubernatorial candidate Peter Cameho present his views.
These entrepreneurs, members of a group called the Greenlining Institute, were not conservative, and they had no interest in listening to businessman Bill Simon Jr., the Republican candidate.
But by extending a hand to Cameho, the Green Party's nominee for governor, they evinced a discomfort with the cautious centrism of the Democratic incumbent, Gray Davis.
Cameho, an investor and educator, probably will not be the next governor of California. But his appearance before these business owners shows it's getting a little easier to be Green.
A little less than two years after presidential candidate Ralph Nader collected nearly 3 million votes, more than 10 times the margin that separated the two major-party candidates, Green Party activists in a dozen states have launched aggressive campaigns for state and local office, Cameho among them.
Though party leaders acknowledge they might not win a single, top-of-the-ballot contest, they are confident that a version of Nader's 2000 strategy is reaping dividends, having shown that the Democratic Party has taken for granted its liberal wing, and they hope to gradually convince liberals that the Greens offer a credible alternative.
But like any growing political party, the Green Party has its share of challenges.
Buying a Coattail
It needs to stitch tails to the coat of its nominal leader, Nader. It must attract the attention of a semi-cynical media geared to covering the two major parties. It must convince an ostensibly centrist electorate that "liberal" is not a bad word. And it must avoid the fate of third parties past — from the Tertium Quids to the Loco Focos to the Reform party — for whom internal squabbles undermined brief periods of ascendance.
From the inside, the Greens are being tugged in several different directions. Activists tend to fall into two camps: many want to focus on electing progressive candidates; others think the onus should be on promoting the party itself as an electoral vehicle for American liberals.
Often, the twain do meet. Concerted efforts by well-organized committees have ensured that a Green gubernatorial candidates in Maine and possibly in Massachusetts and Minnesota will benefit from state matching funds. And the Greens remain among the most successful third parties in the nation when it comes to electing candidates to local offices.
Moderate-to-liberal voters uncomfortable with radical rhetoric about "entrenched power structures are increasingly interested" in specifics of the platform itself. These include, according to analysts and observers, a dissatisfaction with the two-party system, a preference for local economic development over globalization, and, more recently, a stress on peace, rather than war.
Stretching Toward Success
But then there are the growing pains.
The party prides itself in granting its state affiliates a high degree of autonomy. So the Green-endorsed Senate candidate in liberal Minnesota does not object to the possibility that he'll take votes from Democrat Paul Wellstone, among the most liberal of nationally prominent American politicians, and swing the election to favor the Republican, Norm Coleman. That decision alienated labor activists in the state and labor union leaders in Washington.