The Green Party emerged from a national meeting over the weekend increasingly certain that it will run a presidential candidate in next year's election, all but settling a debate within the group over how it should approach the 2004 contest.
There were no formal votes or announcements on the issue. Instead, party activists said, the question was largely answered during two long strategy sessions held Friday night.
Both were closed to the news media. But participants said the discussions came to at least a symbolic close when they were asked to stand in different parts of the room depending on how they felt about the presidential race.
Those who wanted a presidential candidate who would run the strongest possible campaign were asked to stand in one area. Those who wanted someone who would run only in areas where electoral votes would not be pulled from the Democratic presidential candidate stood in another. Those who wanted to skip the race altogether and, instead, support the Democratic candidate stood in yet another.
The unusual exercise was intended to help participants visualize where the highly decentralized and often fractious party stood, literally and figuratively, on the issue.
The overwhelming majority of those present supported joining the race, according to several participants.
"I think people were happily surprised that Greens feel they're more on the same page than they may have believed that they were leading up to this conference," said Ross Mirkarimi, a spokesman for the California Green Party who attended the conference. "This is a very strong litmus test -- that people want to see a Green Party candidate for president."
The debate has been simmering for months -- in conference calls, e-mail exchanges, dueling Web sites and newspaper pages, and also in the gilded hallways of the Mayflower, the Washington hotel where the party held its annual convention.
The meeting was ostensibly held to decide a battery of mundane, internal matters such as committee assignments. But it was also the last time the party officials, delegates and activists would meet before next year's presidential convention, where they will formally decide on the race.
Some have maintained the Greens should skip the race and support the Democratic candidate in the hopes of unseating President Bush. "Bush is a serious threat to your country and the planet -- a much greater threat than any Gore-like Democrat," wrote Jason Salzman and Aaron Toso on their Web site, repentantnadervoter.com. Both were supporters of Green Party candidate Ralph Nader in 2000.
Most, however, said the party should join the race. Many said they believe there is still little difference between the major parties -- one activist tagging them "Republicrats and Demopublicans."
Others complained the Democratic Party is too weak-willed to adequately oppose Bush's agenda. Others said Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio), the only Democratic presidential candidate who has much support among the Greens, is unlikely to win his party's nomination.
There are also more practical concerns: Without a presidential candidate, the party could lose its place on some states' ballots. It would probably be largely ignored by the news media without someone at the top of the ticket -- and the public might assume the party is on the decline.
As if to underscore its growing commitment to the race, the party introduced three of its six potential presidential candidates to those attending the convention.
David Cobb, general counsel for the Green Party, promised to build the party's infrastructure. Lorna Salzman of New York said she would focus on environmental concerns. And Carol Miller, an activist from New Mexico who urged Bush, Vice President Cheney and the entire Congress to resign over their handling of the situation in Iraq, said she would run a "favorite daughter" campaign in her home state.
However, they all said they may not run if Nader joins the race.
According to published accounts, Nader recently told reporters he is still considering the race and will announce his decision by the end of this year. He did not attend the meeting, citing family obligations, but reaffirmed that interest in a letter read to the conventioneers.
The other two candidates, former representative Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.) and New York activist Paul Glover, also did not attend the meeting but issued statements emphasizing their continued interest in the race.
"The major debates through the 2004 presidential race are regarding who to run and how to run -- and not really whether to run," concluded Ben Manski, one of the Green Party's five national co-chairmen.
© 2003 The Washington Post Company