The Party Crasher

No one's giving much thought to Ralph Nader's running mate. But it has never been a good idea to underestimate Winona LaDuke.

"They asked me how long I would
be gone."

There's a titter from the crowd, and then LaDuke begins to work the room, shaking hands and leaning over to listen to congratulations. A few minutes later someone gives the sign to move on, and the entourage swishes down a long winding hall to a room where Bill Hillsman, the Minneapolis advertising guru behind Nader's TV ad campaign, is shooting a commercial. (Unlike the 1996 campaign, this time out the Greens have already spent $1 million on TV advertising.) A makeup artist offers her services. The last thing we see before the door closes is LaDuke, framed by blinding white lights, having her cheeks powdered with what looks like a paintbrush.

In the hallway Thayer and Paul Demaine, LaDuke's press secretary, speculate on the whereabouts of Gwekaanimid, who is nearly due for a feeding. "This is the first time on the campaign trail I've lost the baby," Demaine wails. Moments later the misplaced infant appears, sleeping cherubically on the shoulder of another campaign worker.

Craig Lassig

LaDuke emerges from the shoot looking dazed and pale. With the baby tucked in the curve of her arm, she steps into an unlocked skybox and onto its balcony. The arena is nearly full, and from above, the swaying mass is hypnotic. Two campaign workers in fluffy yellow chicken costumes meant to mock the major-party candidates are wobbling around on stilts in front of a stage arrayed like the set of Hee Haw. LaDuke turns and without comment heads down toward the stage.

Her party runs into a group of grim, besuited young men: the new generation of Nader's Raiders. "Look," she whispers to Thayer. "These guys are the heavies." A contingent of pierced and dyed teens passes by carrying a "Nader/LaDuke" banner. They don't even glance at LaDuke. They don't recognize her.

As LaDuke sails down the hall toward the podium, she's accosted by a man on a cell phone who has a question about his child's teething. She stops and looks at him, somewhat amazed, then mumbles, "Yeah, good luck," and walks on down the wide, white corridor toward the waiting crowd. The audience is chanting now--"Let Ralph debate!"--and stomping on the bleachers. The sound rolls down from the rafters like thunder, along with a few trilling war cries. The candidate smiles faintly. Then she ascends and is swallowed in the glow of klieg lights and a rush of applause.

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