PHILADELPHIA - The Greens have gathered here this week for their national convention,
feeling political strength in their growing numbers but also some unease about
their indirect role in helping Republicans.
Although the Green Party steadfastly rejects the label of political spoiler,
a growing number of its members have entered races pivotal to Democratic prospects
this year. Green leaders say that Democrats have moved too far toward the political
center, becoming indistinguishable from Republicans on trade and welfare and also
on environmental and corporate responsibility issues.
''They got to become more progressive and simply not try to win elections
by being more like the Republicans,'' Ralph Nader said yesterday. ''The future
of the Democratic Party is only in the progressive direction, because Greens are
going to be getting more and more of the votes.''
The Green Party has grown exponentially since the 2000 election, when Nader
was blamed for siphoning key votes from Al Gore. Dozens of Greens have won election
to local offices since then. The party's convention began Thursday at a Holiday
Inn and runs through the weekend. Twice as many delegates are attending as did
two years ago, with five more states represented.
David Cobb, general counsel for the Green Party, speaks at a Green Party convention
Thursday, July 18, 2002, in Philadelphia. With mid-term elections approaching,
the Green Party's national convention in Philadelphia this weekend will focus
on giving party members a crash course on how to run an effective campaign. (AP
Photo/H. Rumph Jr.)
This fall, the Green Party could again prove influential, this time in the
midterm congressional elections. The party has fielded 42 candidates for the US
House and six for the Senate. Another 15 are running for governor, including Jill
Stein in Massachusetts and Jonathan Carter in Maine.
But some convention delegates who see recent corporate abuses as being linked
to Republicans say that as the party grows and matures it should rethink its political
''There is a lot of discussion about this, and there is some division,'' said
Eric Hillman, a Minnesota delegate. ''It is provoking the discussion on what is
the role of the Green Party? We are a real political party and not just out there
to broaden our niche issues ... or to wave the liberal banner issue.''
The US Senate race in Minnesota could be a test for the party. Polls suggest
that Senator Paul Wellstone, a Democrat, and Republican challenger Norm Coleman
have nearly equal support from Minnesota's unpredictable voters, while Green candidate
Ed McGaa has drawn about 3 percent. A small pool of potential voters is said to
Political analysts say that McGaa, a Native American author, could hurt Wellstone's
bid and that a Coleman victory could reverberate nationally if it helps Republicans
erase the Democrats' one-vote majority and take control of the Senate. The race
is so important to the White House that President Bush persuaded Coleman, a former
mayor of St. Paul, to run for the Senate instead of governor. Bush also has visited
Minnesota to boost Coleman's bid.
Gary Hicks, a Green delegate from Boston, said some party members are conflicted
about the Minnesota race. On one hand, another outcome like the presidential race
could demonstrate just how important the Greens have become and force Democrats
to focus more on issues Hicks thinks are critical to average Americans. On the
other hand, he said, a win by Coleman could give too much power to Bush and the
''There has been consternation among the ranks about this,'' said Hicks, who
lives in South Boston. ''Wellstone is no prize, but you have to look at the bigger
picture. Bush should not have full power.''
But other party leaders said the Greens have no obligation to the Democrats
or responsibility for whatever the eventual political outcome may be.
''Our responsibility is to the Greens; the broader picture does not matter,''
said Tom Fusco, campaign manager for the Carter campaign in Maine. ''No one owns
anyone's vote, not the black vote, the environmental vote, the progressive vote,
or the liberal vote.''
Fusco said the Democrats are no longer the party of the people. Many Green
Party members here agree and maintain that Democrats have been just as responsible
for the corporate scandals as Republicans. Like Nader in 2000, some delegates
here seem energized by Democratic concern about the minor party.
''They are scared to death of us,'' said one delegate, referring to Republicans
The Green Party was created in 1990. Since the presidential election two years
ago, officials say, 80 Greens have won local elections, and 352 are running for
office in 39 states. Two are city councilors in Minneapolis.
Representatives for the major party candidates in the Minnesota Senate race
agree that the independent vote is especially important in the state.
''This is the state that voted Rod Grams [a Republican] and Paul Wellstone
to the Senate and all the while made Jesse Ventura [an Independent] our governor.
Nothing is predictable about Minnesota,'' said Leslie Kupchella, a spokeswoman
for Coleman. ''Every vote is going to matter. It's going to be a very competitive
race, without a doubt. Candidates in the Independent Party, the Greens, the Democrats
and Republicans, everyone will make a difference in this race.''
Said Jim Farrell, a spokesman for Wellstone: ''The stakes are high for the
country and for Minnesota.'' Farrell said the race probably will decide control
of the Senate and the makeup of the Supreme Court.
Despite McGaa's candidacy, Farrell said, Wellstone is respected by a core
group of Greens. Farrell also said that Wellstone is known for supporting environmental
issues and civil liberties, and Farrell predicted a large number of Greens will
vote for Wellstone in November.
In a telephone interview, McGaa said he was competing against both Wellstone
and Coleman, a former Democrat.
''I am happy to take votes away from both candidates, but there is this Wellstone
hysteria that Ed McGaa is taking votes away,'' he said. ''They want me to drop
out. Little do they know I am picking up votes.''
Some Minnesota Green Party members were reluctant to compete against Wellstone,
a liberal whose ideology they say is close to theirs. Others say it is imperative
that the Green Party find strong candidates to challenge Democrats and Republicans.
''It will force Mr. Wellstone to deal with the issues that are so critical
to Americans,'' said Dean Zimmerman, a Minnesota delegate and city councilman
in Minneapolis. ''If he tries to out-Green us, then he will win the election.
If we were not in the race, he would move over to the mushy middle and try to
appeal to the great mythical center and stand for nothing.''
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company