- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

It is the only political party that will determine its presidential candidate at its convention this election year, yet the mystery of who will represent the Reform Party in the fall is obscured by another question that is perhaps even more tantalizing.
Who will be punched out?
The fisticuffs that marked a Reform Party gathering in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this year may be in the rearview mirror, but violence is still a possibility at the fledgling third party's national convention in Long Beach, Calif., which runs tomorrow through Sunday.
"We have extra security, and there will be people there who will try to disrupt the proceedings," said acting party Chairman Gerald Moan.
His statement conjures images more befitting a professional wrestling match than a political convention, a gathering at which former Republican Patrick J. Buchanan is opposed by Iowa physicist John Hagelin for the presidential nomination.
"I'm not making a prediction, but someone is going to be unhappy. I just hope people don't resort to illegal means," said Harry Kresky, a member of the presidential nominating committee.
The stakes are high enough to get most people to tussle $12.5 million in federal election money that most watchers agree will go to Mr. Buchanan, who defected from the GOP last fall.
"Long Beach is a fight for the soul of the party," said Lenora Fulani, who embodies the disembodiment of the party: She is a Reform Party leader, an avowed Marxist and a former Buchanan backer.
The two had a falling-out earlier this year, a major factor in the acrimony that has befallen the party.
The party, which has risen from the ashes of Ross Perot's presidential run in 1992 and been further fueled by Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura's successful bid in 1998, still is enduring growing pains.
Mr. Ventura has since disavowed his affiliation with the party. Mr. Perot has watched the whole thing unfold like a bad movie and has refused to join the cast.
The battle for control of the party has resulted in lawsuits, threats of more lawsuits, and physical confrontation.
Mr. Hagelin last week declared himself the de facto presidential nominee after the party's Executive Committee voted to remove Mr. Buchanan's name from the presidential ballot.
To add insult to the purported ouster, Mr. Hagelin accused his opponent of commandeering the party to promote a "right-wing social agenda."
Mr. Moan said that the action was not binding because two of the seven present were no longer committee members, and that without them there was no quorum, the number of attendees needed to form law.
Mr. Buchanan, who this year missed his first GOP convention in 32 years, responded by giving a pep talk at a fund-raiser in Sterling, Va.
"We expect on Saturday night to be on that podium accepting the nomination for the president of the United States," said a tanned Mr. Buchanan, wearing a white polo shirt and khakis and surrounded by about 50 well-wishers shoe-horned into a living room.
Even senators have roomier digs for fund-raisers, but these are the travails of sprouting political movements.
A meeting scheduled for tomorrow has worried Mr. Hagelin's supporters. They fear that by calling a national committee meeting one day before most people arrive at the convention, Mr. Buchanan's followers could make some policy changes that would ensure his victory, regardless of the results of the much-disputed mail-in primary. The results are scheduled for release during this week's convention.
The response from the Buchanan camp is a quiet confidence that the vote of the primary and the delegation will speak for itself that Mr. Buchanan television commentator, author and communications director for President Reagan will be on this fall's presidential ballot.
Mr. Buchanan also is accused of essentially stuffing the primary ballot box with votes from people who are not eligible to cast ballots in the party primary. When he was asked by party heads for a list of those who received ballots from him, he refused to turn it over.
"They never gave us a reason for turning it over," said Bay Buchanan, Mr. Buchanan's sister and top strategist. "We asked the committee what the process was, and they wouldn't tell us. So the auditing of these lists is at an impasse."
The inner-party fractures can be filed under the rubric of alternative politics. While some party supporters would be content to sit out the presidential election in the name of harmony, others are stridently pushing to move ahead regardless of the differences.
"It's the first national third party since the Republicans came into existence that has qualified as a real party," Miss Fulani said. "And the critique comes from people not having a clue as to how difficult it is."
Mr. Buchanan has polled weakly, reaching only around 2 percent of voters. It's a far cry from the 19 percent garnered by Mr. Perot in 1992. Last week, the candidate predicted he would hit 15 percent by fall.
What is buried in the rubble of the fledgling party's bickering is the platform established by its founding fathers.
It is a delicate trinity of common sense, isolationism and populism.
The party wants to change Election Day from the first Tuesday in November to a Saturday and Sunday to make voting more convenient for working families.
It proposes making members of Congress participate in the same retirement program as most other Americans, so that any changes in Social Security policy would be carefully considered.
"Without the Reform Party, there would be nobody to carry on Mr. Perot's message of balancing the budget and the Social Security trust fund," said Mr. Moan, the party chairman. "Fair trade and trade deficits are still part of political spectrum, but if we went away …"
Nadine Padawar, a campaign manager for Mr. Hagelin, said the party's center is "campaign finance reform, fiscal responsibility, fair trade; those are the pillars of the Reform Party. And also, of course, integrity."

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