Bush Presents Colossal Dilemma for Greens in 2004

On its website, the Green Party is asking for bids on sites for its 2004 national convention. No matter where the Greens hold their convention, a lot of eyes will be on them. Not because anyone seriously believes that a Green presidential candidate can oust Bush from the White House, but because a Green candidate can keep him there. Political activists rage at Bush for the Iraq war, his assault on affirmative action, whittling away environmental and civil liberties protections, and abortion rights, and his tax cut give away.

But they rage at Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader even more for pilfering crucial votes from Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in Florida and New Hampshire in 2000 that put Bush in the White House. True, Gore damaged himself by running a lackluster campaign, with no special appeals to blacks and Latinos; and Reform and Libertarian party candidates, Pat Buchanan and Harry Browne grabbed the votes of many conservatives wary of Bush's compassionate conservatism, and his pitch for party diversity. This cost Bush Oregon, Wisconsin, and Iowa.

Yet, Nader did mortally wound Gore. Despite Gore's bumbles, and allegations by blacks of massive voter fraud, Democrats banked heavily on a Gore win in Florida. Minority and labor votes were solid, Democrats held hordes of offices, and Democratic leaders dumped millions into a voter registration drive in the state. Nader hammered away that there was no difference between Gore and Bush on the environment, health care, and labor rights. This fired up the Greens and soured wavering Democrats on Gore. That won't happen in 2004.

For many Democrats, Bush is their worst nightmare and they want him out at all costs. But the Greens can get in the way again. Polls show that voters are almost evenly split politically. Polls also show that while most Americans back the Iraq war and give Bush high marks for handling the fight against terrorism, his personal and political popularity rating is in the doldrums. If one of the pack of Democrat presidential contenders can find his political legs, pound Bush on his domestic failures, appear tough on terrorism, and can bag loads of campaign cash, he can pose a formidable challenge to Bush. Given his war record, his refusal to back down from his "regime change" quip about Bush, and his ability to raise lots of cash, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry for now shows some promise of being the Democrat best equipped to do battle against him.

But in 2004, Bush will have the solid and enthusiastic backing of conservatives, and Buchanan and Browne will have pretty much faded from the political scene. Bush could also be competitive in California and Minnesota, traditional Democratic strongholds. And this is where a Green presidential candidate can derail a Democrat. The Greens have captured a slew of city council, board of education, planning commission posts and a mayor ship in both states. In 2002, Green gubernatorial candidate Pete Camejo racked up double-digit vote totals in several Northern California counties. Despite a lop-sided Democratic bulge, and a kings ransom campaign war chest, Democratic incumbent Gray Davis, eked out a narrow win over scandal plague, novice Republican challenger, Bill Simon. In Minnesota, intense campaigning by Bush helped tip the scale toward Republican Norm Coleman in the senate race in 2002.

A Green presidential candidate in 2004 will stress rigid environmental protections, social justice, corporate responsibility, massive funding of public education and health care, support for gun control, and abortion rights. This will strike a deep chord with younger voters, as well as moderate and liberal Democrats. The Greens will relentlessly depict 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. They will tar the Democrats as appeasers that shamelessly groveled to Bush on domestic issues, and caved in on the war. This will stir resentment, or apathy among frustrated Democrats.

The Greens currently hold offices in 24 states. Even without a candidate with the name recognition of Nader, they have the troops and possible resources to wage a national campaign that can draw lots of media attention. The Greens can avoid bestowing political manna on Bush by urging wayward Democrats to vote for the Green candidate in states that Democrats have a lock on, and urge Greens to vote for the Democrat in states where the election is tight.

But that tactic flies in the face of the avowed Green mission to build an independent alternative to both Democrats and Republicans. Nader refused to publicly back that tactic. There's no reason to think that will change in 2004.

Legions of Democrats are determined to get Bush out of the White House in 2004. If the Greens bull ahead and equally slam Bush and the Democrats, they will draw their wrath and earn the permanent tag of spoilers or worse. That's the colossal dilemma the Greens face.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. Visit his news and opinion website: www.thehutchinsonreport.com. He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).

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