Some states force parties to run candidates in order to keep their line on the ballot, so Greens in New Mexico and Iowa are fielding weak gubernatorial candidates almost by default.
Wisconsin's Green Party endured a debate about whether to run a Senate candidate against Russ Feingold, a moderately liberal Democrat. They decided not to — to the chagrin of many who find Feingold insufficiently progressive.
Dean Myerson, the Green Party's national political coordinator, said these debates are healthy for a growing party and are often resolved by the dynamic candidates the party fields.
The Maine Event
Of the 21 states where Greens enjoy full-time ballot status, Myerson and other party leaders are most excited about Maine. Their candidate, Jonathan Carter, has the twin blessings of statewide popularity and a bushel of money. The Green Party germinated there in 1984 and has led several successful ballot initiative drives.
Carter, an organic food farmer and environmental forester, ran in 1998 and got 7 percent of the vote. Then, he had only $25,000 to spend. This year, thanks to his status as a Clean Election candidate, he'll get at least $900,000.
His opponents are Democrat John Baldacci, who represents Maine in Congress, and Republican Peter Cianchette, a businessman. Incumbent Angus King, an independent, is not eligible to run for re-election.
In late April, state Democrats challenged Carter's right to the Clean Elections money. The subsequent publicity alerted the Maine media to Carter's candidacy.
"The Baldacci Democrats did us a great service by doing what they did," Carter said. "It gave us a tremendous amount of press."
Still, he hovers at between 8 percent to 10 percent in the polls, despite the fact that he is perhaps as well known as either Baldacci or Peter Cianchette.
The belief — Carter calls it a stereotype — that the Green Party is a gaggle of unelectable leftists seems to persist, even within an electorate that elected an independent to the Blaine House in 1998.
"We have to develop the momentum," Carter said. "Even if I didn't do any campaigning, I'd get 8 to 10 percent of the vote. We need to show that we're on a forward trajectory and getting broader and broader support in the polls."
Though she has yet to formally qualify for the ballot, Jill Stein of Lexington turned in signatures to acquire $850,000 to spend as the Green candidate in Massachusetts. Stein, 52, is a doctor best known for her environmental advocacy and her work for Nader's 2000 campaign.
If she gets the money, Democrats admit that she has a chance to tip the balance of the government.
Late this week, a state panel denied her Clean Elections request because, it said, many of her signatures were not valid. Stein may appeal.
Voters in the Bay State approved a Clean Elections law in 2000, setting up a mechanism to fund candidates who adhered to strict donation limits. But Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran, a Democrat, said the state didn't have enough money. Earlier this year, the state's top court forced the Legislature to sell its own possessions, trying to create a cash reserve for qualified candidates. Stein's campaign to get public money was the primary beneficiary, and the resulting publicity spread apart the chasm between Massachusetts Greens and Massachusetts Democrats.