But winning the country’s most powerful seats has proven to be a pipe dream for any color that’s not blue or red.
“The only evidence we ever had of a third party winning at the national level and kind of knocking off one of the two major parties was of course the Republican Party in 1860. Civil war can tend to do that,” says Mark Brewer, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Maine, who specializes in US electoral politics (see sidebar, “What Republicans Can Teach The Greens”). “There is no third party in the United States right now that has any shot of winning a presidential election or even a congressional election.”
According to Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, a 22-year-old Web site and newsletter based in San Francisco that tracks third parties in the US, the Maine and US Green parties have guilt to wrestle with on top of the challenge of breaking into high-level mainstream politics. After waiting years to jump into politics — most third parties run a candidate the same year they launch — to avoid diving into a race only to help a Republican win, the Greens watched their presidential candidate Ralph Nader realize the party’s worst nightmare in 2000 when he helped swing the election for George W. Bush. Winger says that experience made many Greens recoil even more from pushing third-party candidates, even at the state level.
Winger says the strongest national third parties in the country are the Libertarian Party, the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. Green Party membership nationally has stagnated in recent years, while the Constitution Party, an ultra-conservative group that believes US law should be based on the Bible, has lately gained the most registered voters of the five top third parties (see “Party People” sidebar). More than a decade after their slow-to-spoil start in politics, Winger says the Maine Greens are one of the strongest state third parties in the country in part because Eder has been elected to state office twice.
It’s not easy being Eder, the lone representative of a small party that must devote all its resources to the gubernatorial race to maintain party status, and which struggles with a perennially anemic budget. The party’s 2006 budget, according to documents passed out at the April convention, is $15,000, the bulk of it raised from either tax check-offs or direct contributions from registered Greens. During the first quarter of this year, which was reported to the state Governmental Ethics and Election Practices Commission in April, the Maine Greens collected only $607, compared with $67,000 raised by the Maine Republican Party and $334,000 raised by the Maine Democratic Party. The Green Party can’t afford to provide Eder with a state House clerk who can work more eight hours a week and, in 2005, the party closed its Augusta office for lack of funds (the Portland office is still open, but is funded by the Cumberland County Green Committee, not the state party). As it currently stands, the party budget is hardly healthy enough to hire a full-time executive director, which is one of the board’s first goals. The Greens are therefore not hiding that dredging up more green is their first order of business. The new board will hold its first meeting later this month. Until then, the board’s chair, Jane Meisenbach, says she does not know how the party will focus its future fundraising efforts.