Ralph Nader’s capture of the Peace and Freedom Party’s (PFP) California Ballot line provides a major step in his Presidential campaign this year, affording him the opportunity of appearing on the ballot in the state that gave him a 3.9% margin in 2000. This gives Nader access to 23 states’ ballots with a hope of securing another 22 by September 20. It also greatly legitimizes his media worthiness, thereby adding to his campaign strength.
Nader won the California Green Party primary with a substantial lead (60.7 per cent), despite his not being a declared candidate. However, when he announced at the end of February that he was running as an Independent, he also prepared his Green constituents that he would cede his grasp of the California State Green Party ballot line to former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and focus instead on attaining the PFP line, a small Socialist party that has had ballot access off and on since its 1966 inception.
Nader’s repeated declaration was a boon to the McKinney campaign, assuring her the lead in the national Green Party nomination. However, doubts loomed in the McKinney camp and amongst some Greens as to whether or not Nader would honor his repeated assurances of releasing claim to the Green Party line. Similarly, the Nader camp was concerned that McKinney would not relinquish her grasp on the PFP line of which she had won 21.4% in the primaries, falling behind Nader at 41%. The third place candidate, Gloria LaRiva of the PFP and the Socialist and Liberation Party took 21%. Brian Moore, Socialist Party, sat at 10 per cent.
The PFP convention did not share the happy veil of “coopetition’ that had filled the Green Party Convention a few weeks earlier. The Green Party candidates had worked in large part together throughout their campaigns, assisting one another with moral and strategic support and in the case of Kat Swift and Kent Mesplay, even shared a campaign manager. The PFP convention, however, was contentious, with factionalism spurring infinite definitions of socialism ranging from anti-corporate to pro-Marxist perspectives.
When McKinney appeared at the PFP convention this past weekend sharing a hospitality room with fellow candidate Gloria LaRiva, a palpable tension emerged within the Nader camp. Both female candidates share similiar goals of bridging and building a political movement that joins the black and brown communities. They reflect this intention in their vice-Presidential choices: LaRiva had selected a young black male student as her running mate and McKinney selected hip-hop political activist Rosa Clemente who is of Puerto Rican descent. Would McKinney throw her delegates to LaRiva? If so, that could have lost Nader the nomination and cost his campaign dearly as there was not enough time to collect the required number of 158,372+ *signatures to appear on the ballot as an independent candidate for President in California.
However, McKinney did not spend a lot of time campaigning and she was traveling without an entourage. Instead, she was using her time to explore the PFP of which she had little experience. In the hospitality room she shared with LaRiva, McKinney said with a warm smile, “In California, you sure have a lot of choices!” She spoke to the 20 people stuffed into the room about her recent trip to Stockton, California, a center of migrant farm laborers. In the tightly packed convention room, her literature was sparsely displayed and parlay with her delegates was minimal. Anxiety amongst those devoted to Nader relaxed the next day with news that McKinney had left the convention before the vote for a previous speaking engagement.
The delegates were not bound to the primary results so speeches made at the convention held great power to persuade. Betweeen the first and second day of the convention, Nader addressed the concerns of those who thought he was not far enough left for the PFP. And Peter Camejo, Nader’s 2004 running mate and a respected member within Socialist circles, fired up the crowd, a feat which demonstrated remarkable strength, given he is once again undergoing cancer treatments and had just undergone a blood transfusion the previous day. Then there was Matt Gonzalez, Nader’s running mate this year, whose articulation of his capabilities and goals sealed the Nader campaign’s intentions and its value to the PFP. It was clear, in the first round of voting that Nader had taken the nomination. The Naderites cheered jubilantly and the previously tense faces relaxed into deep relief.
Just as Nader helped to grow the Green Party in 1996 and 2000, the PFP stands a good chance of growing its ballot line along with its number of registered voters. The test for the small party is how it will take advantage of the jumpstart which Nader’s organization can provide once the election is over and Nader returns to his life as a non-party activist.
The Green Party saw a 100% jump in its registered members, due in large part to the enthusiasm generated with the 2000 Nader campaign. However, according to one Green Party founding member Ross Mirkarimi, the party was never able to capitalize on the kind of organization Nader had around him. Building a party was not Nader’s goal. Rather, he wants to attack the vehicles blocking the path of all third parties and independents – ballot access. He was interested in toiling the soil in which the seeds could be planted, in which any progressive party could better flourish. While not enough for everyone, it was clearly a welcome opportunity for the majority of delegates at the PFP convention.
* California State Candidate Qualifications and Requirements