Minor parties a major fear for Dems
Worries creep up over third-party hopefuls in 2020
WASHINGTON — Former pro wrestler and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura says he’s interested in the Green Party’s presidential nomination. Ex-coal magnate Don Blankenship is seeking the Constitution Party nod. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, despite her denials, is prompting fears among Democrats that she will launch her own thirdparty run. No one knows what Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., will do.
Traumatized by recent elections, jittery about their field and desperate to defeat President Donald Trump, Democrats are increasingly worried about a potential minor-party candidacy as the primaries approach and well-known figures are openly weighing their options.
Such a candidate could siphon critical votes in pivotal states, they fear, as happened in 2000 and 2016, helping Republicans twice capture the presidency while losing the popular vote — something Democrats are petrified could happen again. The situation is fluid, but a wide-open political landscape and a chaotic Democratic primary are prompting active minor-party conversations around an array of figures.
Some of the prospects seem more remote than others. Blankenship, a former coal executive convicted of a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate federal mine safety rules, spent more than $4 million of his own money in a failed 2018 bid for one of West Virginia’s U.S. Senate seats, a bid that was opposed by Trump and other Republican leaders.
In that race, Blankenship declared that he was “Trumpier than Trump,” but in an interview, Blankenship suggested that he now thinks the president is not getting the job done.
“I see a country that does not have a plan to get better or to make the country be great again,” Blankenship said.
Ventura, the onetime professional wrestler who hosts a news and commentary show on the Russian-backed media network RT, said he is interested in the Green Party nomination, though he is not taking any steps to secure it.
“You want to know why Trump will fear me?” Ventura said in an interview. “Trump knows he can never out-talk a pro wrestler. Trump knows I was the greatest talker ever in pro wrestling. Plus, I’m a veteran. He’s not.”
In a more traditional vein, and potentially a bigger threat to Democrats, Jill Stein, the Green Party’s 2016 presidential candidate, has publicly urged Gabbard, a Democratic presidential contender who’s trailing in the polls, to switch parties and run as a Green.
Gabbard has a small but devoted following, but she has consistently said she is not considering such a move. She is, however, the only Democrat still in the race who has not signed a pledge to rally behind the winner of the Democratic contest.
“She’s said no so many times, what does she have to do?” Gabbard spokesman Cullen Tiernan tweeted recently. “Say no while standing upside down on the ceiling?”
Few Democrats find such statements reassuring. Taken together, the three smaller parties — Green, Libertarian and Constitution — scored more than 4% of the popular vote in 2016.
More important, they may have played a spoiler role in crucial states such as Wisconsin and Michigan, where 5% of voters went for the three parties’ presidential contenders, and the Libertarian and Green Party candidates each received more votes than Trump’s winning margin over Hillary Clinton.
Some Democratic strategists say minorparty assistance will be necessary for Trump to win reelection.
“The reality is, he is going to have a difficulty, from a vote share standpoint, of getting north of 48% in the battlegrounds,” said David Plouffe, who helped run both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns. “So it is going to behoove him to drive up third-party vote share.”
The outsider parties’ success will depend on whether they can recruit big-name candidates, and on whether the increased polarization of the Trump era leaves room for voters to feel they have another option.
For now, no one who can command instant star status or spend millions of dollars has officially announced a thirdparty run.
In the Green Party, the leading contender is Howie Hawkins, a co-founder of the party who received less than 2% of the vote in his 2018 run for New York governor.
Libertarian Party rules make it easy for a latecomer to grab the nomination, because the May convention will have no bound delegates. The Green Party convention, by contrast, which takes place in July, could be decided in a first round of voting, in which delegates will be bound by the results of state caucuses and primaries.
Hawkins has a head start on that process, and he said he doesn’t see a route for someone like Ventura or Gabbard to enter the process late.
“I would feel bad if Trump got reelected. I would. But it’s not our fault,” Hawkins said. “When people vote Green, they vote Green. To assume that our voters will [vote] Democratic in the absence of a Green candidate is a dubious assumption.”
In close elections, however, minor parties can prove decisive.
An academic study of the 2000 presidential race in Florida found that about 40% of Green Party nominee Ralph Nader’s voters would have voted for Bush if Nader had not been on the ballot. The other 60%, however, would have voted for Democrat Al Gore.
Given the razor-thin result in 2000, that would have been enough to swing the Florida outcome in Gore’s favor.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the only Democrat in the race who has not signed a pledge to rally behind the winner of the contest.