The Green Party candidate insists it’s her year to get noticed—and she may make it onto 47 state ballots.
By Bill Scher. This article was first published on Politico.
After an anxiety-inducing and divisive primary, Democrats are starting to breathe easier. Bernie Sanders, while not formally conceding to Hillary Clinton, has turned his fire on Donald Trump. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the darling of the left before Sanders, has effusively endorsed Clinton. So at last the presumptive nominee can hope to gather in all those unhappy Bernie voters and lead a united Democratic Party in the fall, right?
Not if Dr. Jill Stein has anything to say about it.
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The longtime Massachusetts environmental activist and presumptive Green Party nominee (the Green convention is not until August 4) is hungrily eyeing disgruntled Sanders voters—many of whom have been saying that even now, with the nomination all but locked up, they still won’t vote for Hillary. And Stein appears to know her audience, declaring on CNN right after the California primary that she represents “a plan B … to continue to fight that revolution.”
She is also undaunted by the Democratic coalescing around Clinton. Asked in an interview with Politico Magazine this week whether the Warren endorsement presents a problem for her, Stein suggested that the Massachusetts senator lacks the progressive credibility to sway Sanders voters: “Elizabeth Warren has very good proposals regarding Wall Street, but she really has not been leading the charge for single-payer health care … and is pretty much a war hawk in alignment with Hillary Clinton.” (Stein is not the first voice on the left to criticize Warren’s foreign policy record as militaristic.)
You may be wondering: The Green Party? What’s that—one of those European lefty outfits? And do they have a prayer of getting more than a fraction of the vote? As of today, Stein is but a blip. Eighty-seven percent of voters don’t know enough about her to register an opinion in a late May Quinnipiac poll. And Clinton’s lead over Trump appears big enough to weather a little left-wing erosion. But with a recent Bloomberg poll showing that only 55 percent of Sanders voters are ready for Hillary, the conditions exist for Stein to spark a larger exodus–if she can raise her profile and if Democrats can’t unify at next month’s convention.
And while the Greens have been under the radar in America for the past several years, they proudly claim at least 100 municipal officeholders, and from 2007 to 2015 they controlled the mayoralty of the 100,000-person city of Richmond, California. Now, like the Libertarian Party, the Green Party sees its moment in this season of widespread discontent, when both Clinton and presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump begin the general election campaign with record-high unfavorables. Stein’s platform is nearly identical to Sanders’, only more pacifist (the two diverge on the use of military drones) and more ambitious (beyond providing free college, Stein would cancel all existing student debt).
And Stein may be making big strides toward being treated like a legitimate presidential candidate. In her 2012 Green Party run, she appeared on only 36 state ballots. But her campaign’s ballot access coordinator told Counterpunch last week that “we fully expect to get on the ballot in all but three states due to our petition drives” and will then litigate the “onerous” requirements in the three remaining states in hopes of hitting 50.
That’s not bluster. Ballot Access News publisher Richard Winger told Politico Magazine in an email he expects Stein to reach 47 as well. If so, Stein would break the ballot access record for the Green Party, topping the Ralph Nader 2000 effort by four states.
She is beginning to register in the polls as well, at least when the polls mention her, hitting 5 percent in a NBC/SurveyMonkey poll and 4 percent in Ipsos/Reuters. Does that hurt Hillary? Maybe. The inclusion of Stein in the NBC/SurveyMonkey poll helped trim a 7-point Clinton lead over Trump down to a tighter four, whereas in Ipsos/Reuters, an already comfortable 9-point lead was bumped up to 10.
Sanders has drawn fire from Democrats for staying in the race despite lacking the delegates to win the nomination, but Stein may be even more politically brash than Bernie. Not only does she lack Sanders’ squeamishness about tipping the race to the Republicans, she is burying the tentative approach to presidential campaigning tried by 2004 Green candidate David Cobb. Following the 2000 election, when many blamed Nader for contributing to Democrat Al Gore’s defeat in Florida, Cobb pioneered a “safe-state” strategy—hunting only for votes in deep blue and deep red states, thus successfully protecting the Greens from the “spoiler” label. But he wasn’t successful in winning votes, garnering only 120,000 votes compared to Nader’s 2.9 million.
Stein defiantly told Politico Magazine she has a “No Safe State strategy,” because “there is no safe state under a Democratic or Republican future.” She’ll be stumping in Pennsylvania later this month.
Stein’s willingness to antagonize Democrats goes beyond her travel itinerary. She laces into Clinton and the Democratic Party on a regular basis in her media appearances and on her Twitter feed.
“While it’s horrifying to hear the draconian things that @realDonaldTrump is talking about, we’ve actually seen @HillaryClinton doing them,” she blasted last Thursday. On the online show The Young Turks, hosted by Sanders backer Cenk Uygur, Stein characterized Clinton’s record as anti-feminist: “I think it’s an offense to the concept of feminism to say that Hillary Clinton—and her advocacy for war, for Wall Street and for the ‘Walmart Economy’—represents feminism.”
But while Stein potentially has a bigger pool of leftist voters to chase compared to four years ago, she also has stiffer competition: the Libertarian Party ticket of former Republican governors Gary Johnson and William Weld.
Stein and Johnson are potentially in each other’s way in the pursuit of the third-party candidate’s holy grail: an invitation from the Commission of Presidential Debates to square off against the two major party candidates, which hasn’t happened since Ross Perot in 1992.
The Commission says it will invite only candidates who average 15 percent in “five national public opinion polling organizations selected by CPD.” But the commission hasn’t determined yet which five it will use or, more importantly, whether it will use three-way or four-way trial heats to gauge support. That would potentially make a huge difference. Johnson just hit 12 percent in a three-way race tested by Fox News (one of the five polls used by the commission in 2012), putting him in striking distance. But in four-way polls that include Stein, Johnson’s number has ranged from 4 to 9 points. The better Stein does, both in polls and ballot access, the harder it will be for polling outfits tapped by the commission to exclude her. In this respect, Stein is a major threat to Johnson’s hopes for a campaign breakthrough.
The appeal to Sanders supporters will be critical for both the Greens and the Libertarians. While the Libertarians are often viewed as an escape hatch for disaffected conservatives, Johnson also has been sharpening his pitch to the Feel-the-Bern crowd. And, so far, he has a bigger media platform than Stein’s on which to make it. Last month he made it onto the coveted set of NBC’s Meet the Press, and he can probably expect the bookings to keep coming thanks to his credible presidential résumé. The former two-term New Mexico governor has more elected-executive office experience than anyone other presidential candidate running, as does his veep. (Stein, conversely, is like the Ben Carson of the left—a citizen-doctor who argues she’s the right person to administer “political medicine.”)
Johnson, in an interview with Politico, hit on the themes that make him a plausible choice for the #NeverHillary left. But he also made clear there are ideological places he will not go, which may limit his appeal.
“We’re the same when it comes to social issues, marriage equality, woman’s right to choose, legalize marijuana, let’s stop dropping bombs,” said Johnson of Sanders. He even offers to solve the problem of “crony capitalism” noting that “government can play a role in leveling that playing field.”
But the libertarian is no socialist. “We do come to a ‘T’ in the road when it comes to anything free,” said Johnson, not even bothering to dance around the subject. “Somebody’s got to pay for what is free.”
And while Johnson sounded critical of the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an earlier Politico interview, in this later one he appeared to support it. “It is my understanding that the TPP does advance free trade,” he said. “Is it a perfect document? Probably not. But based on my understanding of the document, I would be supporting it [though] in a perfect world there wouldn’t be a document like that, there would just be free trade.” The statement makes him the only candidate in the four-person field indicating he would ratify the pact, which may raise his stock with anti-Trump free trade Republicans but muddles his case for the Bernie camp.
Johnson also drew a bright line between himself and Stein: “She is on the giveaway side. She is on the controlling the economy side, which in my opinion, that’s where you get crony capitalism.” Stein shot back that the Libertarian Party believes “there should be no restrictions on your freedom to put your money into the political candidate of your choice. … it will be very hard to end crony capitalism if you can continue to buy your way into whatever influence and position you want with government.” (Johnson has said he believes in “100 percent transparency” but not limits on donations.)
The two third-party candidates are not expending a lot of energy attacking each other, though Stein threw a little extra shade Johnson’s way regarding his campaign schedule: “I don’t know if Gary Johnson is out there doing a campaign actually. I think he’s talking to press a little bit, but I don’t think they hold events.” (A Johnson spokesman said the campaign is “underwater” with media requests but is looking to arrange an event in Washington, D.C., “in a few weeks due to demand from interested voters and media alike.”)
Johnson is also standing in Stein’s way on another big front: the goal of winning 5 percent of the national popular vote, which would give a big boost to a third party by qualifying it for federal public campaign funds in the next presidential election. With Stein presently polling at or just under that threshold, she may conclude a sharper attack is necessary to prevent him from scooping up voters she desperately needs.
Both candidates vehemently reject the notion that they are “spoilers.” But whether or not they end up impacting the final result of the presidential race, they may end up being spoilers for each other.