How the Greens, Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich Can Help John Kerry

News from the campaign trail has been coming fast and furious over the past month, although, as is all too often the case, the mainstream press has skimmed over the most important story: the Green P

News from the campaign trail has been coming fast and furious over the past month, although, as is all too often the case, the mainstream press has skimmed over the most important story: the Green Party convention. That body snubbed independent candidate Ralph Nader, who ran under the Green banner in 1996 and 2000, in favor of Texas lawyer and activist David Cobb, who ironically headed Nader's campaign in President Bush's home state last time around. (For an interview with Cobb, see "The Green Team ," issue of July 21-27).

This event might well decide the fate of America and by extension the world for the next four years, as Nader arguably holds the key to victory in several swing states, most notably Florida, where Bush ostensibly won by 573 votes in 2000. Recent polls show Bush and Sen. John Kerry in a statistical dead heat in that state this time around, with Nader registering support well into the single digits.

If Nader were to endorse Kerry, he might well hand that state and the general election to the Democrats. On the other hand, by staying in the race and convincing enough progressives that Kerry's agenda is as progressive as Bush's — that is to say, not at all — the consumer advocate and perennial candidate might just cost the Democrats a close contest.

Of course, all that assumes that Nader supporters would even consider voting Democratic, and vice versa. Further muddying the waters are the possible outcomes of the Greens' decision last month. Perhaps the possible splitting of the progressive vote will lead some voters to give up on the independent/third party candidates and support Kerry just to oppose Bush.

An additional choice at that end of the political spectrum, however, might draw votes from citizens who decide they do not support Kerry or Nader but are open to alternatives.

That possibility is important, as criticism of Nader from Democrats and others has been almost continuous since 2000. The volume of such voices has only increased as the "Independent Citizen for President" heads full-tilt into the campaign.

Along with the now standard "Ralph cost Al Gore the 2000 election" rhetoric, some now chastise Nader for allowing Republicans to sign ballot-access petitions or otherwise aid his efforts. Obviously, the thinking behind this is that Bush supporters agree that their chances improve with Nader in the race.

Divining what effect, if any, the Cobb and Nader campaigns might have come November becomes even harder if one considers possible vote-swapping schemes such as those discussed, and in some cases implemented, during the last election cycle.

According to a Xander Patterson opinion piece on Cobb's official campaign Web site, the Greens chose Cobb because, despite Nader's "unrivaled stature to get the progressive agenda into the debate and the threat of spoiling to pressure the Democrats into adopting portions of it," they have a different agenda.

As Patterson puts it, Cobb supporters seek only to promote electoral reforms, help local Green candidates and get as many votes as possible in "safe" states — i.e. those where one major party candidate or the other is almost certain to win regardless of support for other tickets.

While the Greens "are trying to release America from the two-party headlock on power" by planting "themselves firmly in the Anybody But Bush coalition, for the good of the country — and the party," pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is growing from the inside even as Nader pushes from without.

One might not know it from watching the news, but U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich's campaign is rolling along toward its goal of influencing the outcome of next week's Democratic convention in Boston. In addition to successfully influencing several state party platforms, Kucinich claimed "progress" during the national Democratic Platform Committee meeting earlier this month in Miami.

His campaign seeks to have a huge presence in Boston in addition to the dozens of official delegates pledged to him. Hundreds of beds have already been reserved through Kucinich's Web site, and a wide variety of progressive-oriented events are planned, including workshops and street actions.

Kerry might also be forced to adopt a stance more in line with traditional Democratic policy by events unrelated to the only party mate still running against him. A long-simmering labor dispute between the Democratic administration in Boston and the city's police and firefighters threatens to disrupt the Democrats' party.

The head of California's delegation has already threatened to walk out of the convention if Mayor Thomas Menino takes the podium to welcome delegates as planned.

The affected unions plan to protest every convention-related event the mayor attends, and the heads of at least six state delegations (including Ohio) have said they will refrain from crossing picket lines and urge the rest of their groups to do the same. In a move sure to please organized labor, Kerry told The Washington Post that he would not cross a picket line and had never done so.

Kerry could have further gladdened labor by picking union favorite U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt as his running mate. That move would have also improved the chances that any future Kerry campaign will govern successfully, as few, including Kerry himself, understand the workings of Capitol Hill as well as the Missouri Congressman.

Sen. John Edwards presumably got the nod because his charisma and southern origin are seen as potentially helping defeat Bush in November. Vice-presidential candidates rarely affect an election's outcome, but in what is shaping up as a very tight race a small effect might have big consequences.

Finally, amid all the maneuvers by his opponents, things continue to go badly for the incumbent. Despite the early handover of "sovereignty" to the interim Iraqi government last month, kidnappings, car bombs, mortar attacks and assassinations continue to be commonplace, and the U.S. army seems to be occupying the country just as much as it ever was.

Back home, the report by the Congressional commission investigating the 9/11 attacks harshly criticized the Bush administration as well as Congress, and new questions continue to be raised about the claims made by the administration in advocating the war. Of course, poll numbers like those cited above show Kerry thus far failing to capitalize.

Look for a report from the Democratic National Convention next month.

Joshua C. Robinson writes monthly about the presidential campaign for CityBeat.