MADISON, Wis. – Delegates to next month's Green Party (search) convention face a unique choice: opt against nominating a candidate for president or formally endorse Ralph Nader (search), who is running for the White House as an independent after shunning the party that nominated him in 1996 and 2000.
Still, Nader's Green supporters believe an endorsement will be enough to help him get on the ballot in many of the 22 states and Washington, D.C., where the party has ballot access.
Delegates to the convention June 23-28 in Milwaukee are not required to nominate anyone for president. They will cast a series of ballots until either a candidate or the choice "no nominee" receives a majority of the votes.
If "no nominee" wins, delegates can then ask for a vote to endorse a candidate, who most likely would be Nader. The implications of such a move and how it might influence the race remain unclear.
Democrats still blame Nader for Al Gore's loss four years ago, believing he helped elect Republican George W. Bush by siphoning away votes in key states like Florida and New Hampshire.
Some in the party also question the wisdom of endorsing someone who wants to distance himself from the Greens.
Nader is not yet on any state ballot. But he has been endorsed by the national Reform Party (search), which gives him access to the ballot in at least seven states, including the battlegrounds of Florida and Michigan.
Some state elections officials were unsure whether a simple Green Party endorsement would be enough to get Nader on the ballot in their states, while those in California and Wisconsin, for example, said it would suffice.
Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said Nader, a longtime consumer advocate, is not openly courting the Green Party's endorsement and is trying to qualify as an independent for as many state ballots as possible.
Still, Zeese noted that Nader's platform is very similar to the Green Party's and that he could use the backing of several third parties to contest the "duopoloy" he contends Democrats and Republicans have over American politics.
"Whatever the Green Party decides, Nader will be a factor in this race," Zeese said. "If they choose Cobb, they won't be a factor in this race," he said, referring to attorney David Cobb, currently the leading candidate for the nomination.
At the heart of the matter for the Greens is how best to grow the third-party into a national political force.
"The choice is between the homegrown Cobb versus supporting the historic figure in Nader," said Ben Manski, one of the party's five national co-chairs.
Leading the two factions are Cobb, who helped found the party's Texas chapter, and Peter Camejo, a former California gubernatorial candidate who is seeking the Green Party nod as a stand-in for Nader.
To date, Cobb leads Green Party candidates with 158 delegates. Still, five of the other six candidates have pledged their support to Nader, who has won 39.5 delegates despite his pledge not to accept the nomination.
The Green Party has ballot access for a presidential candidate in: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C.