- The Washington Times - Monday, October 23, 2000

Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan can boast a well-funded third-party campaign thanks to an infusion of taxpayer money, but has only a skeletal party apparatus around the country.

This lack of organization, even though the party captured 8 percent of the vote nationwide in 1996, dogged Mr. Buchanan at recent campaign stops in the upper Midwest.

At universities in North Dakota and Minnesota, where Mr. Buchanan spoke last week, only Buchanan die-hards had heard much from the party, which was relying on the fiery orator and paid advertising to generate attention.

"I've seen more of the Green Party than the Reform Party," said Shane Placek, a law student at the University of Minnesota.

A Minnesota staffer for the Buchanan campaign, Steve McCoy, said he was "not sure" if the Reform Party had a campus organization.

Mr. McCoy, 22, said he became involved with the campaign because his father supported Mr. Buchanan in 1992.

But the problem isn't confined to one state.

Mr. Buchanan conquered the party founded by Ross Perot at a raucous national convention in August. He gained access to the $12.6 million in federal funds to which the party was entitled because of Mr. Perot's showing in the 1996 election, but the battle for the nomination caused a nasty split in the party.

"The [Reform] Party organization has simply shriveled badly or disappeared," said David Gillespie, a scholar of third-party movements at Presbyterian College in South Carolina. "It's one of Buchanan's major problems."

Despite the infusion of federal cash, Mr. Buchanan's support remains at only 1 percent in most national polls. He insists that the party has a "fighting chance" to get 5 percent, which would entitle it to more money in 2004.

"We want to make this a permanent party in American politics, and we have to get above 5 percent to do that," he said in Minnesota.

Mr. Buchanan has promised to remain active in the party for five years, but has not committed to running for president again in 2004.

His sister and top campaign staffer, Angela "Bay" Buchanan, said that during the general election the campaign had to focus on its media presence at the expense of building up the grass-roots organization. She said this would be the first phase of a longer-term effort to build the party.

"We're defining the issues and people are becoming aware of our positions," Mrs. Buchanan said.

The campaign has spent the vast majority of its federal money $10 million on advertising in 30 states, she said. She notes that the Buchanan forces organized well enough to put their candidate over the top at numerous state conventions.

But the lack of organization does limit Mr. Buchanan's exposure. On a campaign stop at North Dakota State University, a small number of ardent supporters cheered the candidate but left behind little but memories of his strong rhetoric.

"[Buchanan] is a household name," said Tadd Tobkin, student body president at North Dakota State University in Fargo, where Mr. Buchanan spoke. "But there is no Reform organization here."

Political observers in the state say Mr. Buchanan has been able to rally a core group of supporters around his pro-life, economic nationalist message. But they have not coalesced into a durable political force or expanded their appeal.

"The Reform Party in North Dakota is a collection of individual activists … without a common theme," said Gov. Edward T. Shafer, a Republican. "Under those circumstances, I don't think you'll see an organized Reform Party here in the future."

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