||Earl Ofari Hutchinson
A few years ago if anyone had asked if you liked greens, it was assumed that they were talking about a leafy vegetable, and not a political party. Although the Green Party, or Greens as their supporters like to be called, have been around for nearly two decades in the United States they have been the invisible person in state and national politics. That changed abruptly in 1999. When a lightly regarded Green Party candidate defied all political odds and knocked off Elihu Harris, a seasoned, Democratic Party stalwart in the race for a California state assembly seat. The defeat was a monster wake-up call for the Democrats. It showed that Greens could be competitive in local races and that their triumphs would likely come at the expense of Democrats. That has been pretty much the pattern nationally. Greens currently hold office in 19 states and the District of Columbia. There are 121 Green candidates running for statewide offices this election. And in most cases the seats they've won in past years would have likely gone to Democrats.
The Green surge and the grave danger it poses to presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore has caused a nervous stir in the Gore camp. And with good reason. This year's presidential race is stacking up to be the closest in two decades. A recent Newsweek poll showed presumptive republican presidential candidate George W. Bush and Gore in a statistical dead heat. But veteran consumer activist, and Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, can hurt Gore and hurt him badly in the state. In recent Field and NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls, 7 percent of voters say they'll vote for him. Unlike Bush, Gore, and especially presumptive Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, Nader carries little negative personal or political baggage. Only 15 percent of the voters have a negative view of him and 33 percent like him.
What spells more trouble for Gore is that those who like him are not swing voters, voters disgusted with the Democrats and Republicans, or liberal and disgruntled Republicans. They are core Democrats, trade unionists, and young voters. They have been the traditional backbone of the Democratic Party and without a heavy vote from them Gore doesn't have a prayer. Take California. It is the biggest, most populous, and has the highest number of electoral votes of any state. It has been solidly Democratic the past decade and one third of registered voters in the state are under aged 30. Nader's "key values" message of rigid environmental protections, social justice, corporate responsibility, massive funding of public education and health care, support for gun control, and abortion rights, strike a deep chord with younger voters, as well as moderate and liberal Democrats. His relentless depiction of the Democrats and Republicans as clubby good ole' boys hopelessly controlled by big money special interest groups also touches a raw nerve among voters fed up with back room deal making by lobbyists and politicians.
What ignites the greatest tremor in the Gore camp is the potential defection to Nader of some trade union groups. For the past decade, labor has been firmly in the Democratic bag. They have the money, membership, and political muscle to counter the rock ribbed support Republicans get from Christian fundamentalist groups. But a troubling fissure in labor support appeared at a recent news conference when Teamster President James Hoffa wrapped Nader in a chummy embrace and effusively praised him for opposing the China trade bill. Labor unions loathed the bill and fought a bitter Congressional battle to defeat it. Gore supported the bill.
In the past couple of years labor unions have launched a frenzied organizing campaign in the restaurant, hotel, construction, and transportation industries in many cities. The organizing campaign has paid off. Union membership has soared in the county, and unions are being eagerly courted by Republicans, Democrats and Greens. While the major unions still dutifully endorse Democrat Gore, Hoffa's flirt with Nader shows that Gore is being watched closely and labor support for him is fragile. In the 1996 presidential election Nader spent less than $5000 and had virtually no public presence nationally. However, Nader and the Greens now sniff a chance to make quantum gains for their party by pouncing on Gore's vulnerability. With a hefty boost from federal matching funds, the Greens will shell out $5 million on the campaign. Nader will also barnstorm throughout the fifty state for votes. The luster of his name and novelty of his campaign insure that he'll get tons of media attention. He'll shrug off charges that his taking votes away from Gore could guarantee a Bush victory by continually reminding voters that on issues of the environment, health care, and labor rights there's little difference between Gore and Bush. No matter whether Bush or Gore wins in November, the Greens have proven that they can draw attention and get votes. But Gore anxiously hopes that they won't get enough of those votes to push his campaign into the red.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Disappearance of Black Leadership. email:email@example.com
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