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Reform Party Trumpets Revival
Buchanan Calls Bush 'Clueless,' Hopes to Capitalize on GOP Divisions

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 5, 2000; Page A16

The battle for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations will leave the two parties so divided that it will open the door for a third-party candidate to become a force in this year's election, Patrick J. Buchanan told members of the Maryland Reform Party yesterday.

Buchanan, the former Republican who is the leading candidate for the Reform Party nomination, said the major parties are disintegrating, especially the GOP. "The conservative side of the Republican Party is so fragmented," said Buchanan, who sought that party's nomination in 1992 and 1996.

"We hope to gather together some of those pieces to put together a plurality in November," he said in a speech to about 100 people who gathered at the Marriott Hotel in Greenbelt. Buchanan quit the GOP this year after it became clear that he would not be competitive in the party's presidential primaries dominated by Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona Sen. John McCain.

The Maryland Reform Party convention yesterday exhibited little of the turmoil that has surrounded the national organization in recent weeks. Buchanan, standing in front of an American flag and waving amid cheers of "Go Pat Go," was the man of the hour. Those present elected 11 delegates to the national party's nominating convention this summer--all of them pledged to Buchanan.

Buchanan sounded his familiar campaign themes yesterday, adding that he would do all he can to shed what he called his "mean-spirited" image.

But much of his talk addressed possible advantages for the Reform Party in the bitter fights for both major party nominations. Ultimately, he said, voters will be left with a choice between two "establishment" candidates--Bush and Vice President Gore.

And he said of Bush: "Wait until we get ahold of old Dubya." He described Bush as "clueless," especially regarding foreign affairs.

Buchanan said the Reform Party will give voters an alternative to the two-party system. "We are here to break up that little conspiracy," he said.

The Maryland Reform Party, strong enough in 1996 to be considered a force in the election, stagnated two years later after losing thousands of members. It eventually lost its certification with the state election board.

Local members hope that Buchanan will reinvigorate the party. Volunteers plan to descend on polling sites Tuesday to gather signatures they need to earn a place on the Maryland ballot. So far they have about half of the 10,000 signatures they need, said Robert Bowes, state party chairman and a banker from Bethesda. The party has about 3,000 registered members.

The Buchanan candidacy has brought the party "back from the dead," said Bill White, a Reform Party candidate for the Montgomery County school board. "Even the Libertarians were ahead of us. Now we're blowing the Libertarians away," he said.

Bowes said, "People are tired of the two-party system. They're tired of gridlock."

Never mind that the national Reform Party has had its own gridlock over the past few months. The Reform Party burst onto the national scene in the mid-1990s when Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot created it as a vehicle for his presidential bid. Last month, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I) quit the party after a public battle with Perot and Buchanan. Days later, Donald Trump, the New York real estate tycoon and a Ventura ally, declared that he would not seek the nomination of the party, which he described as "self-destructing."

The Minnesota Reform Party followed its leader yesterday, breaking away from the national party and changing its name to the Independence Party.

If he becomes the Reform Party nominee, Buchanan's campaign could receive $13 million in federal funds. And if he averages 15 percent support in five national polls, he will be allowed to participate in the presidential debates this fall.

That's what Rick Dumont, a Silver Spring resident and airline pilot, is hoping for. Dumont filled out a Reform Party registration form yesterday. When Buchanan left the GOP, Dumont said he had to leave too, even if he doesn't think the Reform Party is all that stable.

"The party itself is in turmoil, but probably all the parties are in some degree of turmoil. In the end, Pat will straighten things out," he said.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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