A Green Party “Safe States” Strategy

Within and outside of the Green Party there is much discussion about whether or not the Greens should run a Presidential candidate in 2004. Some of the external opposition to it is from some of the same people who were opposed to the Nader/LaDuke campaigns in 1996 and in 2000. But other opposition, or serious questioning, comes both from within the Greens and from progressives who have supported, or who continue to support, Green candidates in the past and present.

It’s no mystery as to why this is the case: the militaristic and repressive response of the Bush Administration following the 9-11-01 attacks, the dangerous reality of what can only be described as 21st century corporate warmongers and fascists in positions of power within the White House, Pentagon, Justice Department and elsewhere within the Bush regime. The 9-11 attacks are being used by them to attempt to significantly strengthen and expand an already oppressive and repressive, corporatized political and economic system.

What they have done and what they intend to do are qualitatively and quantitatively beyond anything we have experienced in this country for many decades.

In this context, it has to be admitted that, on the surface, the “anybody but Bush” argument (Lieberman, Graham, Edwards, Daschle, Kerry) has validity.

However, I think it would be a huge mistake for the Green Party not to move forward with its plans to nominate a candidate, for a number of reasons.

The fact is that the Green Party is the leading national “third party” formation. It has earned this through its work over many years throughout the country. For those of us who understand clearly that the Democratic Party* is part of the problem and in no way part of the solution, there is a serious risk that a decision by the national Greens to not run a Presidential candidate could jeopardize its prospects for the future. Although the analogy is not exact, there is a potential parallel with the decision of the Populist Party in 1896—a “third party” that was much stronger than the Greens—to support the Democratic Party candidate, William Jennings Bryan. That decision led to internal divisions and demoralization within Populist Party ranks that led to its virtual disappearance by the turn of the century.

The need for a progressive alternative to the Democrats and Republicans is too great for such a risk to be taken, ESPECIALLY because of the dangerousness of the Bush regime. Think about it: what if the Greens decided to make no effort to field a Presidential candidate and then, with no candidate on the ballot in November, 2004, Bush still wins? We will have a doubly demoralized progressive movement, demoralized because Bush has won but also demoralized because we will have suffered through months of political campaigning where, almost certainly, the national political debate between the Republicans and the Democrats moves the “political center” even more to the right. Talk about political torture!

As we saw in 2000, a serious Green Party Presidential campaign can bring progressive ideas, energy and visibility into the political arena that is badly needed. Remember all those super-rallies across the country in the fall of 2000? What if it comes down to a Bush-Lieberman race, or Bush-Edwards, Bush-Daschle or Bush-Kerry? All of those Democrats, all seen as the leading contenders at this point in the game, supported the war on Iraq and voted in October, along with candidate Bob Graham, to give Bush authorization to decide on his own about going to war. All of them, to a greater or a lesser degree, have gone along with the Bush regime’s quest for empire conducted under the guise of a “war on terrorism.” None of them can be expected to seriously challenge the dangerous direction of U.S. foreign policy. In certain respects, a couple of them are even more aggressive than Bush.

What about Sharpton or Kucinich, or (in another category) Moseley-Braun? Well, if one of them got the Democratic nomination, it would be a political development that the Green Party would need to seriously consider. Such a development would be the political miracle of U.S. history. And because it is so unlikely, the Democratic Party and the corporate media being what they are, it’s really not something the Greens have to worry about at this point in time.

Finally, what about “dark horse” Howard Dean? A Dean candidacy would mean a more-progressive approach on the part of the Democrats, but let’s not forget the usual dynamic of a liberal primary campaign turning into a centrist general election campaign. Given Dean’s need for that corporate and fat cat money if nominated, it’s a certainty that there would still be a big political space to his left, one the Greens could once again fill.

A “Safe States Strategy”

But the filling of this political space by the Greens has to be done in a certain way, in my humble opinion. It’s what I call the “safe states strategy.”

Everyone knows that a Green Party Presidential candidate will not win in 2004. But a Presidential campaign can help to build the party, give it visibility, attract new members, keep or attain ballot status in a number of states. And if it pulled out 5% or more of the popular vote it would mean millions of dollars for party-building leading into 2008.

The best way to do all of these things is to explicitly focus the campaign** only in those “safe states” where past voting histories and current polling indicates that either Bush or the Democrat is very likely to win. Let’s remember that our Presidential election is in some respects not a “national” election; it’s 50 separate state elections to choose representatives to the electoral college. If it truly was a national election Al Gore would have been elected President in 2000, even with Jeb Bush and Katherine Harris’ criminal activity of throwing legal voters off the Florida voting roles.

By running this kind of campaign in the 25-35 or so almost-certain “safe states,”*** the Greens cannot be accused, at least accused in good faith, of just being spoilers out to deny the Democrats the Presidency. Indeed, by running such a campaign, the Greens and their Presidential candidate are saying in no uncertain terms that although both the Republicans and Democrats are problematic, the Bushites represent such a particular danger right now that we have modified our campaign accordingly.

This will gain us the respect of some of our allies in the Democratic Party who are pretty much with us on the issues but, in part because of the winner-take-all nature of our electoral system, are unprepared to move outside it right now. It could well mean more votes from these allies for local Green candidates in states where such candidates are running.

It should increase the popular vote for the Greens toward 5% as the argument can be made in the “safe states” that voters should not waste their vote by voting for the Democrat or Republican but should instead vote for the candidate they know is closest to their own views.

And it is possible that such a strategy will actually increase the likelihood that the Democrat, whoever he is, defeats Bush and/or that the Democrats win at least one house in Congress. A Green Presidential candidacy will motivate possible non-voters to come out and vote. This will add to the vote totals of some local and Congressional Democratic candidates where there is no significant Green opposition. It will put pressure on the Democratic Presidential candidate to use more populist-sounding, anti-corporate language, as was the effect of the Nader/2000 candidacy on Al Gore, which then increased his standing in the polls and helped lead to his popular vote victory.

What about if the Bush campaign is so politically overwhelming that there are very few “safe states?”

I don’t think this is likely. There are too many negatives, from the economy to the exploding national debt to growing armed resistance in Afghanistan and Iraq, to expect that the Bushites will be able to win a landslide victory. Things have been close at the national level between the D’s and R’s for a long time, and that is the likely scenario again.

However, if the race does look so bleak, it is very unlikely that a Green Party decision not to run a Presidential campaign would be able to have much of an effect as far as preventing a Bush victory. Indeed, in such a case, an argument could be made that it’s even more important to have an independent progressive voice out there because such a situation could only result if the Democrats truly messed up royally, were so internally divided or “off message” that they alienated a large chunk of their base.

The bottom line: it is not sound politics for progressives to say that the Bushites are so bad that we have to support whomever the Democrats nominate. Think Joe Lieberman! Indeed, the major contribution progressives can make to getting Bush out of office may well be the Green Party “safe states strategy” articulated here.

Is there risk to this strategy? Of course. But there is also risk to another support-the-Democrats strategy. There is risk that without an effective “left prod,” the Democrats will blow it again. There is definitely a risk that we could jeopardize the viability of the shoots and seedlings of a viable progressive party that the Greens represent.

In 2003 and 2004, just like other years, let’s use our brains and be the independent, critical thinkers we like to think we are.


*This does not mean all individual Democrats are “bad guys.” There are a not-insignificant number of people like Kucinich and Sharpton, progressives with solid histories of often-courageous activism. Over time it is essential that the third party movement help to bring these people out of the Democrat Party and into a genuinely progressive independent political formation.

** “Focusing” on the safe states should not be understood to mean that the Green Party would only put their candidates on the ballot in those states. In the “unsafe” states where there is significant Green organization—which is most of them—it is to be expected that state organizations will nominate or petition to put Presidential/Vice-Presidential candidates on the ballot. I support this.

***I’ve researched Presidential voting results for 2000, 1996 and 1992. This research yielded 23 states with over 103 million people in them with voting results from those three years which make it extremely likely the winner will be from the same party as was the case in all three of those Presidential election years. There are another five states with over 35 million people in them which are very likely to go the same way as in 2000. There’s a good chance, based upon what happened in 2000, that, in the last month or two of the campaign, the key time period, there will be another 5-10 states that will fall into this category of a near-sure thing for Bush or the Democrat. To see the basis for these projections and the specific 28 states, write to me.