Before 1996, the Greens had never run for the presidency. If they were to enter the race, most Greens felt it should not be to wage a traditional candidate-centered, personality-driven campaign. Rather, it should be to build the Green movement and advance a bottom-up politics. As it turned out, the candidacy of Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke did just that.
In November, 1995 Nader officially announced that he’d enter the Green Party of California’s 1996 presidential primary the following March. This set in motion a grassroots process where state by state, Greens debated the presidential option and decided to go forward, eventually putting Nader on the ballot in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and made him a write-in candidate in another 23 states. The campaign accelerated the growth of the Green Party, and complimented the Greens’ local strategy – which, by nature, is slow-building. In many states, the Greens grew roots in many states where it had not existed (or had been dormant), like Arkansas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Tennessee, and Washington. Greens also grew stronger in many of the party’s core states, like Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
This growth has been both quantitative and qualitative. Not only did the Greens expand their numbers, but also talented new activists joined from single-and-multi-issue non-profit groups. Many have been ‘green’ in outlook, but hadn’t focused on electoral politics. Others had, but mostly through lobbying Democrats and/or Republicans. Nader/LaDuke drew many of them to redirect their energy into independent, third-party politics, the Green Party in particular.
Nader/LaDuke also helped many voters to see the ‘lesser of two evils’ as the ‘evil of two lessers’. In the past, such a debate was mostly theoretical. But in ‘96, the similarities between Clinton and Dole, and the clear superiority of Nader/LaDuke on issues to either, set millions on the path to voting Green. Some did it this time. Others likely will do so in the future, having considered it now the first time in real terms.
Nader attacked corporate America, challenged its dominance over politics and government, and the lack of democracy that results. With the top 1% controlling over 90% of the country’s wealth, and with Clinton and the Congress scapegoating the poor with welfare ‘deform’, Nader called attention to the nation’s $200 billion expenditure on corporate welfare. LaDuke suggested a Seventh Generation Amendment to the constitution, that not only private property, but also common environmental resources could be defended.
The Greens offered the most progressive alternative among the seven visible national candidacies: Green, Democrat, Republican, Reform, Libertarian, Natural Law, and US Taxpayer. They also offered the best grassroots model for forming a new political party. This was critical with so many people looking for new options. If new parties merely replicated current structures, little changes.
In terms of the election results, Nader/LaDuke finished fourth, with 685,000 votes. This represented 1.6% in the 21 states where they were on the ballot. Oregon boasted a high of 4.1%. Averaged over all 50 states, the 1.6% decreased to 0.7%. But this was still ahead of the fourth-place Libertarians, who’ve been in existence 25 years and outspent the Greens in ‘96 by $3 million to $200,000.
The Greens spent only 30 cents/vote, a significant achievement for a party that stressed building a civic culture through grassroots activism as one of the goals of the campaign. In contrast, Clinton spent $1.36, Dole $1.63, Perot $3.67, the Libertarians $6.37, US Taxpayer $11.17 and Natural Law $18.18.
It is instructive to look at the campaign in districts where Green activism is strongest. In Santa Fe County, where the Greens have two officeholders, Nader/LaDuke received 7.1%. In Boulder, CO, they received more than 20% in several precincts. In Madison, WI Nader received 20% and 18% (and beat Dole) in two different districts and received 10% in each of three more. In Park Slope, Brooklyn (where Craig Seeman’s state assembly campaign was strong), Nader received 11.6% and Dole 11.1%, with 15,384 votes cast. Three precincts in Iowa City, IA that were leafleted by the Iowa City Draft Nader Committee received more than 10%. Russell Lovetinsky will run this fall in that same district for City Council.
In California, Greens have been organizing as locals since 1985, and as a state party since 1990. With the vote split over what was essentially an eight-way race in CA, and with all the third parties relatively well-organized, Nader/LaDuke finished with 2.37% statewide. They did best in counties where Greens are strongest – Mendocino County 11.04% (best in the nation), Humboldt 8.7%, Santa Cruz 7.8%, Marin 6.4%, as well as in some of the larger cities, such as San Francisco 7.6% and Oakland 5.8%. In Arcata, where more Nader yard signs were seen than Clinton and Dole combined, Nader beat Dole 22.0% to 16.5%. During a massive voter registration drive there, the progressive HOPE coalition registered more than 1,000 people in front of the Arcata Co-op, and estimated that half were Green and the rest from other parties.
In Berkeley, Nader beat Dole 13.6% to 8.4%, with a high of 16.9% in Dona Spring’s City Council district. Within that district, Nader’s top precinct was 22.5%. In Oakland’s City Council District 1, where Larry Shoup received 18.7% earlier in April, Nader beat Dole 10.7% to 9.9%. The top precinct was 20.7%. In San Francisco, the result was 13.8% in Haight-Ashbury and 15% in the Mission District. Tiny Orr Spring in Mendocino County gave Nader a 17-12 win over Clinton, and in Albion Nader lost by only 227-188. In Marin, Santa Cruz and San Francisco counties, Nader/LaDuke also beat 3rd place finishers Perot/Choate.