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    What Does Jesse Want?

    By Ken Rudin
    Special to
    Friday, July 30, 1999

    Question: In light of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's victory last year, is there a real place for a third party in U.S. politics?
    – Marc-Andre Bergeron, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada

    Answer: The verdict is not yet in, but there doesn't seem to be much evidence that a third-party movement can gain real traction in this country. In the past decade, independent or third-party candidates won five gubernatorial elections, the most since the 1930s (see July 16 column). But the 1996 presidential results show little willingness by voters to buck the two-party system. Ross Perot, running on his Reform Party ticket, managed to win just over eight million votes – less than half the number he received in '92, and only 8.4 percent of the total vote. Only one other third-party candidate, the Green Party's Ralph Nader, broke the 500,000-vote plateau in 1996. And Harry Browne, whose Libertarian Party appeared on the ballot in all 50 states, got 485,000 votes – just over half of those won by the party's nominee in 1980.

    Gargan, an anti-Perot candidate, won a surprise election to lead the Reform Party. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Part of the Reform Party's problem is an internal struggle for power, which was displayed at last weekend's national convention in Dearborn, Mich. The struggle is between those who support Ventura, the charismatic former wrestler, and Perot, who has led the party since its formation. The Ventura wing says thanks, Ross, for all you've done, but it's time to move on. The Perot wing says the Texas billionaire has gotten the party where it is today and it would be foolish to toss him overboard. Neither side seems willing to budge, as both Ventura and Perot have larger-than-life egos and personalities, and the squabble could prove detrimental for the party as the 2000 campaign approaches. Concerns that the convention was a pre-ordained Perot rubber stamp proved false when Jack Gargan, an anti-Perot candidate backed by Ventura, was elected national chairman of the Reform Party. It's a fine thing to have $12.6 million in federal matching funds, but not if the party is going to self-immolate over factional rivalry.

    There's also the difficulty in defining the Reform Party. It has become a refuge for disenchanted Democrats and Republicans, making it nearly impossible to agree on a unified message. With such disparate pols as Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, Lowell Weicker, Lenora Fulani, Bob Smith, Donald Trump and Colin Powell suggested as prospective presidential nominees at the convention, it's no wonder the party has an identity crisis.

    Third parties in the 20th century have relied on personalities to succeed in presidential politics, which is also why they are not sustainable. Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party of the 1912 election died out once TR disappeared from the scene. George Wallace's American Independent Party, which carried five Southern states in 1968, fizzled once the Alabama governor sought the presidency as a Democrat. And while Perot won more votes in 1992 (nearly 20 million) than any other independent presidential candidate in history, his erratic behavior since has lessened his and his party's effectiveness. Ventura's win last year was the first major victory by a Reform Party candidate, but it may have been more about his personality than about what his party stands for.

    Question: When and how do the smaller parties (Taxpayer, Reform, Libertarian, etc.) choose their presidential and vice-presidential candidates? Is there a primary? – John Schaeffer, Phoenix, Ariz.

    Answer: Some parties are more structured than others, but for the most part their nominees are selected at conventions. The U.S. Taxpayers Party, which may favor former Republican/now Independent Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire, will officially name its nominee on Sept. 4, 1999, at its national convention in St. Louis. Its 1996 nominee, party chairman Howard Phillips, appeared on the ballot in 19 states and won 184,000 votes. The Libertarian Party, led in '96 by Harry Browne, will hold its nominating convention June 30 through July 4, 2000, in Anaheim, Calif. Reform Party officials have said the party will name its presidential ticket sometime next summer. In 1996, Perot feigned non-interest in a repeat presidential bid, luring former Colorado governor Dick Lamm into seeking the nomination. But then Perot managed to win the nod in a still somewhat mysterious process. With the party now in anti-Perot hands, it wouldn't surprise me if the "Ross for Boss" crowd formed its own clique and ran him for a third time in 2000.

    Question: Who were the six House Democrats who voted for the tax cut passed on July 22, 1999? – Shelia Paddock, Killeen, Tex.

    Answer: When the House passed its $792 billion tax cut by a vote of 223-208, six Democrats jumped ship and voted with the majority: Sanford Bishop (Ga.); Gary Condit (Calif.); Pat Danner (Mo.); Virgil Goode (Va.); Ralph Hall (Tex.) and Ken Lucas (Ky.). But four Republicans went the other way and voted against the cut: Mike Castle (Del.); Greg Ganske (Iowa); Connie Morella (Md.) and Jack Quinn (N.Y.).

    Question: I just completed an interview with former Virginia governor Douglas Wilder. In it he complained that since his election in 1989, no political party has even nominated another African-American for governor. It seems to me that there have been at least two. In 1990 there was a state senator nominated by the South Carolina Democrats to challenge Carroll Campbell. And Cleo Fields (D-Louisiana) ran in 1995. Were there others? – Richard Rector, Centreville, Va.

    Wilder was the last black elected, but not the last nominated, for governor. (Collection of Ken Rudin)

    Answer: Since Wilder, just the two. Theo Mitchell was the 1990 Democratic nominee in South Carolina, losing overwhelmingly to then-Gov. Campbell. Fields did run in 1995, when he lost to now-Gov. Mike Foster, but it would not be technically correct to say that he was the Democratic nominee. Fields was a Democrat, but Louisiana's gubernatorial candidates do not run on party labels. (Rep. William Jefferson, another black Democrat, is the leading challenger to Foster's second-term bid this year.) In addition, the late Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley was twice the Democratic nominee for governor of California (1982 and 1986). And Bill Lucas was the 1986 GOP nominee for governor of Michigan. Of all those listed, only Wilder won.

    Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin:

    Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of's ScuttleButton contest.

    © Copyright 1999 Ken Rudin

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