Green Party May Tip the Balance

"They deserve absolutely no sympathy from me," Myerson said of Massachusetts Democrats. "This is a classic case where a third party is needed. Just because Democrats are seen as being liberal doesn't mean they deserve a vote."

Because Republican Mitt Romney polls well in this heavily Democratic state, the state party needs every liberal to turn out in favor of its nominee. But Ralph Nader got 173,000 votes — and Stein counts on at least half to vote for her. Republican Paul Cellucci beat Democrat Scott Harshbarger by just 65,000 votes in 1998.

If Stein is disqualified from the ballot, or if she's unable to raise money, Romney and his Democratic challenger will face opposition from Carla Howell, an articulate libertarian who polled 15 percent of the statewide vote against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 2000.

Minnesota is another state where independent candidates have fared well. The Greens endorsed gubernatorial candidate Ken Pentel, a self-styled activist from Minneapolis. Though his run in 1998 attracted just over 7,000 votes, party officials hope to capitalize on the possibility of a three-way race — Gov. Jesse Ventura will run again as an independent, and one candidate each will run on the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party and Republican Party tickets. Nader got more than 126,000 votes in 2000.

Minnesota Green Senate candidate Ed McGaa says he will focus his campaign on fellow veterans and on progressives dissatisfied with Paul Wellstone's vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act and his support for the president's war on terror.

He says of his approach to politics, "I am an author. I am a HarperCollins author. An author is a person that sits down and focuses hard on an issue."

McGaa said his biggest problem is likely to be the press, who, he says, misrepresent his record and his competence as a candidate. He denied that he is an anti-Semite, though he did not specify where that allegation originated.

Scott McClarty, a national party spokesperson, acknowledged an internal debate about the propriety of running an untested candidate against a thoroughly liberal incumbent. "If the party were so unified that there were no factions at all, I'd be worried."

Not all advocates for third parties promote the absence of party discipline.

Richard Winger, an expert on ballot access, said that the Greens had little choice: There are no official nominating conventions in Minnesota — only party endorsements. Minnesota Greens, he said, had to endorse McGaa, lest a candidate with less credibility seek the mantle of the party.

That did not stop Democrats from complaining, privately and publicly, that McGaa would strip away liberal votes.

Credibility and Ballot Access

Intra-party splits aside, Greens acknowledge their biggest obstacle is getting on the ballot.

For example: The Greens recently qualified as a recognized party in Mississippi, but not time to get a line in this year's ballot.

And once they qualify for the ballot, they must persuade state candidate debate commissions to let them participate.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott McCallum, a Republican, refuses to debate anyone other than his Democratic opponent, despite the protests of several third-party candidates. One of them is Ed Thompson, a libertarian and brother of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, himself a former governor of the state.

And on top of all this, there's the credibility problem.

In Winger's opinion, the Reform Party withered because its founder, H. Ross Perot, neglected to pay attention to it after his two failed presidential runs. He said he believes strong guidance from Nader would be the ticket to electoral success.

Micah Sifry, an author and observer of third parties, attributed the Greens' difficulties to "a self-fulfilling prophecy."

"Because they are politically marginal, they have a very hard time attracting experienced organizers or experienced candidates. Without those kind of stabilizers, in many places, it falls to earnest, but inexperienced volunteers to organize and representative the Green Party."

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