- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2000

LONG BEACH, Calif. The fractured Reform Party continued its internal battles yesterday while presidential candidate Pat Buchanan exhorted his followers to "be gentle" with a party faction that claims he is not playing by the rules.

"These little tiffs and disputes will be behind us by Sunday," a confident Mr. Buchanan promised a crowd of 200 supporters who greeted him on arrival at the party's convention, which officially starts today. "We're going to get into the debate and give Albert and W. the fight of their lives."

Mr. Buchanan said later that access to the presidential debates between Vice President Al Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the subject of a promised lawsuit, is the next hurdle for his presidential bid.

"Once we secure the nomination here, we will move for that," Mr. Buchanan told The Washington Times. He added that access would give him a nudge in the polls, even higher than the 14 to 15 points he predicted two weeks ago.

Mr. Buchanan's noon arrival was preceded by infighting that has divided the party into two camps: Buchanan supporters and opponents. The latter group is backing the candidacy of John Hagelin, an Iowa physicist.

Police were called to the Long Beach Convention Center early yesterday when two groups arrived around 7 a.m. to open a ballroom to start the day's meetings.

Both groups lay claim to the room, both under the aegis of the Reform Party.

"It was ugly, there was yelling and I was scared," said a bystander who was at the bay-front arena to attend a symposium in another meeting area.

Party Chairman Gerry Moan said he arrived to find the room packed with members of the faction led by party Secretary Jim Mangia, the group that loudly stormed out of a Tuesday meeting, claiming the party's process for certifying delegates and committee members violated rules.

They also claimed that Mr. Moan was doing Mr. Buchanan's bidding by failing to allow the party primary to determine the presidential candidate.

Mr. Moan said the assertions were groundless and that he has no political alliances within the party.

"This thing that they're doing is blocking access to our convention," Mr. Moan said. "Our party paid for the room; we have fiduciary responsibility for it."

The occupying faction later moved its meeting into a hallway.

"What they've [Buchanan loyalists] done is blown a great opportunity for this party to be cohesive," said Russ Verney, founding chairman of the party, which began in 1992 with Ross Perot's presidential bid.

At his arrival rally, Mr. Buchanan used the previous day's events to illustrate his dominance.

Under an awning of palm trees, the candidate held up a newspaper photo of Mr. Mangia and Mr. Verney departing Tuesday's meeting.

"They do not look like happy campers, do they?" he asked a cheering throng.

The division first erupted during what was supposed to be a procedural hearing Tuesday over who has the right to sit on the national committee. The national committee is responsible for deciding key questions, including who gets credentials and whether Mr. Buchanan should be disqualified for breaking party rules in the primary process.

Mr. Hagelin arrived in town Sunday but has stayed out of sight, ensconced in his presidential suite at the Renaissance Hotel, across from the convention center.

"I am not tempted to get involved in the beer-brawl tactics being used down there," Mr. Hagelin said yesterday. "I have just preferred to stay above the fray and let the party work out its differences. It's a struggle between the party and Pat Buchanan."

The similarities between Mr. Hagelin and Mr. Buchanan, who defected from the Republican Party last fall, is a short list.

"We both believe in the importance of trade reform and we both agree that the two-party stranglehold must end," Mr. Hagelin said succinctly. "That is the extent of it."

The candidates are vying for $12.6 million in federal election money, which is available because of Mr. Perot's showings in the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.

There have been murmurs the past two days here that the Dallas businessman has wielded some behind-the-scenes power because of his wealth and influence.

"We don't have to be conspiratorial about this, but I'm sure Ross remembers the Reform Party," said Lenora Fulani, a former Buchanan ally and Reform Party advocate. "Whatever happens, Verney works for Perot, but I don't know how much they talk."

Mr. Verney said that Mr. Perot is "aware of what's going on. I talk to him whenever the need arises, but not hourly. He has a day job."

Joe and Bonnie Bankovich of Oceanside, Calif., both longtime Buchanan supporters, are trying to figure out just what the elusive Mr. Perot is thinking.

"He should be supporting Buchanan instead of fighting him," said Mrs. Bankovich, a delegate badge dangling from her neck. The word "Buchanan" preceded the word "Reform" on the party-issued badge.

Mr. Hagelin sees this weekend as dueling events on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. "We have two conventions. Buchanan's and mine."

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