WASHINGTON – Some members of the Green Party (search) are reserving much of their anger for Democrats these days, and say they don’t care if another third-party run by Ralph Nader (search) wrecks the Democrats' opportunity to replace President Bush in 2004.
"As the Democrats have retreated from their core constituencies, they have given the Republicans a real license to move into greater extremes," said national party media coordinator Scott McLarty, who accuses Democrats of betraying their so-called progressive ideals.
"[The Democratic Party] seems to be crumbling as a political force that means something to anybody, crumbling as a real force of opposition," he said. "That is what we mean when we say we are so strongly in favor of running a national candidate."
In fact, the party hasn’t decided to run a candidate, and if it does, the Greens, with about 300,000 registered members nationwide, cannot necessarily count on the star power of Nader this time around.
Nader, a crusading consumer activist and founder of Public Citizen (search), has yet to announce his intentions, though should he decide to give it a go, it will be his third jump in the race on behalf of the Greens.
Yet to pan out are reports that Cynthia McKinney, a former Democratic representative from Georgia who lost a primary bid for re-election in 2002, may run on the Green Party ticket. Officials say she is still mulling it over.
Meanwhile, the party prefers to run through what members call an old-fashioned convention process, with a slate of nominees, delegates and a pounding gavel on the podium. That convention won’t occur until June 2004, so until then, it’s unclear whether a third-party challenge could serve as a possible "spoiler" to Democrats.
"If the Green Party mounts a candidate, you could see a replay of last time, where they draw just enough votes to make a difference," said Roger Hickey, head of the Campaign for America’s Future, a network of liberal activist organizations, many of which continue to support the Democratic Party.
In the razor-thin election of 2000, Nader received 2.7 percent of the vote, compared to 48.4 percent for Al Gore, and 47.8 percent for George W. Bush, who won the electoral vote and the U.S. Supreme Court ruling deciding his victory. Democrats savaged Nader publicly, blaming him for "stealing" votes away from Gore.
Third-party supporters say the Democrats will blame anyone but their own party for their loss at the polls.
"How dare any of these Democrats accuse Ralph Nader and the Greens, who ran an honest campaign in 2000, of spoiling," said McLarty, who noted that "absolutely nasty" articles have already been written about the Greens in anticipation of their presence in the 2004 race. "If there was a problem, it certainly wasn’t with Mr. Nader."
Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, who is running on the California Oct. 7 recall ballot to replace Gov. Gray Davis, said, "The Democrats are declaring war on the Green Party.
"Instead of fighting the Republicans, they are turning their hate on the Green Party," he said, noting he has experienced this in California, where the Green Party has close to 70 people currently holding office throughout the state.
"The Democrats who attacked Ralph Nader are hypocrites -- he’s called a spoiler, for trying to change America," Camejo added.
But the stars are in a different alignment this time around, analysts point out. For one, Democrats, including the far-left activists in the party, want to win, said Hickey.
"I think a lot more Green Party people will pull the lever for a Democrat against George Bush just to get rid of him," he said. "I am constitutionally in favor of people wanting to support new parties, but I would advise against it this year."
Plus, with a field of nine Democratic candidates running to unseat Bush, there appears to be something for everyone’s ideological taste.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean so far has captured the roiling discontent of the left wing, mostly on his anti-war stance, promises of extending healthcare to the uninsured and virulent attacks on President Bush.
The Greens admit that he and fellow candidate Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, who is even further left than Dean, might just be taking the steam out of the Green Party’s appeal, at least for now.
"If we had Ralph Nader running now, Howard Dean would have less support than he does at this point," surmised Jo Chamberlain, national co-chair of the party.
But that doesn’t matter, said Camejo, who suggested that both Dean and Kucinich are still long shots for the nomination, while a centrist candidate is assured of the job. Even if Dean were to win the nomination, he would be sure to move to the center for the general election, leaving the left wing high and dry once again.
"Dean is using the sentiment of progressive Democrats who should be moving over to the Green Party," he said. "He appeals to them to get himself through the primaries, and then will spend the rest of the time assuring the corporate world he was just kidding."
At this point, Camejo added, no Democrat will do. "I’m sure all of these people have good qualities too, but they are absolutely tied to the framework. Someone must run against George Bush."