You won't find their candidates on stage at any of the upcoming presidential debates, but in an election that remains too close to call, in battleground states Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Party candidates could tip the scales in favor of either President George W. Bush or Senator John Kerry.
In the current "battle of the ballots," Libertarian Party presidential candidate, Michael Badnarik, is leading the pack with 48 states under his belt. The Green Party, which eschewed its 2000 presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, this time around, has made the ballot in 28 states as of early September. As an independent presidential candidate, Nader has snared 39 spots -- a number that may fluctuate due to some upcoming court rulings. And, as of September 21, with the addition of Louisiana, Rhode Island and North Dakota to its scorecard, the little known radical right wing Constitution Party has managed to rack up ballot spots in 37 states and it is hoping to be on at least three more.
While both the Libertarian and Constitution Parties appeal to disillusioned Republicans, and both oppose the war in Iraq, the Libertarians stray far from the Bush camp with their pro-gay, pro-choice, anti-drug war positions.
The Constitution Party, however, is the home of the red meat culture warrior. Running under the banner of "God, Family, Republic," will the Constitution Party influence the outcome of Election 2004?
According to the Constitution Party's web site, it "is the only party which is completely pro-life, anti-homosexual rights, pro-American sovereignty, anti-globalist, anti-free trade, anti-deindustrialization, anti-unchecked immigration, pro-second amendment, and against the constantly increasing expansion of unlawful police laws, in favor of a strong national defense and opposed to unconstitutional interventionism."
"The existence of the Constitution Party -- which is so extreme -- essentially takes the far right of the Republican Party and makes it seem like it's the center," Mike Reynolds, a freelance writer who tracks right wing movements, told me in a recent telephone interview.
After it was turned down by the controversial former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, the Constitution Party -- founded in 1992 as the U.S. Taxpayers Party by longtime inside-the-Beltway right wing activist, Howard Phillips -- nominated Maryland lawyer Michael Peroutka as its standard bearer and Chuck Baldwin, a fundamentalist Christian preacher, as its vice presidential candidate.
Peroutka is a graduate of Loyola College in Maryland and the University Of Baltimore School Of Law. He is Chairman of the Constitution Party of Maryland and a member of the Executive Committee of the Constitution Party National Committee, as well as the founder of The Institute on the Constitution, "a nation-wide program teaching the principles incorporated in the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution." He's been a partner with his brother, Stephen, in the Pasadena, Maryland, law firm of Peroutka & Peroutka for 18 years.
According to his official biography, Peroutka "resigned from a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services when he recognized that none of the programs on which he was working were Constitutionally permissible." Peroutka also serves on the Board of Trustees of Howard Phillips' Conservative Caucus Research, Analysis & Education Foundation.
The Party has a marquee name helping it out. Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, removed by a federal court from his seat on the state's Supreme Court over his refusal to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments from the rotunda of the state Supreme Court building, has been sharing stages with the ultra-right wing Constitution Party, much to the dismay of Alabama's Republican Party.
After Judge Moore turned down the Constitution Party's presidential nomination, it turned to Peroutka, who in late-June accepted the nomination at the party's Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, convention. Chuck Baldwin, the founder and Pastor of Crossroad Baptist Church in Pensacola, Florida, was nominated as the Party's vice presidential candidate.
Why bring Judge Moore along as the Party trots around the country? He "puts the bodies in the seats," said Reynolds. "He was the hottest thing on the Christian right before Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ,' and he's still packing them in." And Peroutka has returned the favor: According to the Washington Times, his campaign "is preparing ads criticizing the president for not backing" Justice Moore when he came under fire last year.
In a coup for the Party, Peroutka and Judge Moore have toured the country together, sharing the same stage. At a recent appearance in Seattle, WorkingForChange.com columnist Geov Parrish reported that they "inveighed against America's secular enemies, in a worldview that came at times perilously close to confusing devout with paranoid." They charged "that virtually all government programs designed for the greater good, from social works to environmentalism to health care to seat belts, came straight out of the Communist Manifesto," Parrish reported.
For years, veteran right winger Howard Phillips has been keeping the Party in the news. Since 1974, Phillips has been the Chairman of the Conservative Caucus, a right wing lobbying group that championed President Ronald Reagan's low intensity wars in Central America, supported right wing paramilitary groups in Angola, and opposed Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in South Africa.
Phillips is also currently president of Policy Analysis, Inc., a public policy research organization. According to his official bio posted at the Web site of WorldNetDaily, Phillips worked for two federal agencies during the Nixon Administration and he resigned his position as director of the U.S. Office of Economic Opportunity in the Executive Office of the President because "Nixon reneged on his commitment to veto further funding for 'Great Society' programs."
Phillips had spent "two decades of service to the GOP as precinct worker, election warden, campaign manager, congressional aide, Boston Republican chairman and assistant to the chairman of the Republican National Committee."
In 1992, Phillips was the U.S. Taxpayers Party's presidential nominee -- running in 21 states with Albion Knight Jr. as his running mate. According to the Party's web site, "In 1995, the party became the fifth political party to be formally recognized by the Federal Election Commission as a national political party." The following year Phillips appeared on the ballot in 39 states, running with Constitutional scholar Herb Titus.
By 1999, the party changed its name to the Constitution Party "believing that the new name better reflected the party's primary policy approach of enforcing the U.S. Constitution's provisions and limitations." Phillips, who ran again in 2000, this time with Dr. J. Curtis Frazier of Missouri as his running mate, gained ballot access in 41 states and qualified write-in candidate status in 7 others.
While the Party's press releases about abortion, gay rights and other red meat social issues are dead serious, it does seem to have a sense of humor. A recent press release issued by Peroutka 2004 took out after the Bush twins for "foolish, embarrassing, [and] dishonorable" remarks they made at the Republican Party convention: "Did anybody else cringe and feel sorry for our President and country when Jenna Bush said that Grandma Barbara Bush is "not very hip" because she thinks the TV show "Sex And The City" is "something married people do, but never talk about?
"Jenna Bush's assertion that 'Outkast' is a band and 'not a bunch of misfits' is --- well, just Google this motley, foul-mouthed, toilet-tongued crew. Check out their photos and lyrics. And I think you'll agree that the word 'misfit' doesn't even begin to accurately describe these raunchy rappers," the press release asserts.
Can the Constitution Party's hard-edged take on the culture wars siphon votes from disillusioned social conservatives in the same numbers that the then- Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader took from Democrats in 2000? Will its anti-Iraq War stance win over disenchanted independents and Democrats who find John Kerry's position on Iraq difficult to support?
In the battleground states where close elections are expected, anything can happen. Susan Kay, a political science professor at Miami University of Ohio, recently told Gannet News Service that votes for minority party candidates could damage either Bush or Kerry. Although the minority parties will only get a relative handful of votes, "at the edges in a tight election -- that could be really significant," Kay said.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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