Off Beat

The Green Mirage

Minnesota Democrats' fears that a Green Party candidate might cost Paul Wellstone his Senate seat look pretty silly now.

Consider: Last week's Green primary race between Native American writer/activist Ed McGaa and his even less-known challenger, Ray Tricomo, got a whopping 6,013 votes statewide. By way of contrast, that's about half as many votes as perennial protest candidate Dick Franson pulled versus Wellstone--11,883--in a humdrum DFL primary. Tricomo won the primary, but the scant Green turnout and his complete lack of name recognition make it appear less likely than ever that the Greens will be any kind of factor in the Wellstone/Coleman Senate race.

The Greens' handling of the Senate race has been scattershot and riven with controversy from the start. After earning major-party status in Minnesota on the basis of Ralph Nader's 8 percent here in the 2000 presidential election, the Greens soon fell to squabbling over whether to field any candidate against Wellstone. Ultimately the party endorsed McGaa at last summer's nominating convention, even though he bluntly admitted to convention-goers that he'd only belonged to the party for a month or so at the time.

Within weeks following the convention, after McGaa had turned his service as a Vietnam War vet into the main recurring theme in his campaign, the Greens hastily recruited Tricomo (who had unsuccessfully sought the party endorsement for governor) to oppose McGaa in the Senate primary. By the time it was reported last month that McGaa had helped transport solid waste ash to South Dakota in the 1980s, most high-profile Greens--including the party treasurer, the Fifth District chair, a Duluth City Council member, and at least a half-dozen endorsed candidates for state or national office--were backing Tricomo.

Whatever McGaa's differences with the Green catechism, he was a colorful campaigner and cheerfully plainspoken outsider who would have broadened the party's base had he not been strategically "unendorsed" by the forces backing Tricomo in the primary. Despite entreaties by Tricomo, McGaa is refusing to support the Green ticket in the wake of his loss. For his part, Tricomo claims he'll run a spirited campaign against Wellstone. "I want to ask him in debates why he can't find it in his heart to challenge George Bush more aggressively," he says. "It's time to have a different agenda that doesn't apologize for being radical."

State Green Party Chair Cam Gordon acknowledges that there is still plenty of ambivalence among members of the party about mounting any opposition to Wellstone in November. Thus, through a combination of incompetence and design, the Greens have managed to splinter their already minuscule base and severely compromised their chance to exercise any leverage in the Senate race.

It's becoming apparent that the real X factor in the Coleman/Wellstone contest will be Independent Party Senate candidate Jim Moore. Moore totaled 13,500 primary votes, or more than double what McGaa and Tricomo pulled together. Overall, there were four times as many Independent primary voters for the Senate race as there were Green voters--and that figures to be a mere fraction of what the party will poll in November, given that those who vote Independent (or independent) are those least likely to participate in a primary, and that the Independence Party will have Tim Penny running at the top of its ticket.