Mi­nor par­ties a ma­jor fear for Dems

Wor­ries creep up over third-party hope­fuls in 2020

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Michael Scherer

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.

HUNTER WOODALL/AP

Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard is the only Demo­crat in the race who has not signed a pledge to rally be­hind the win­ner of the con­test.

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