- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

The Green Party, buoyed by its strong showing in the 2000 presidential contest, is building a slate of candidates to target incumbents in next year's congressional contests.
Although the Greens haven't come close to winning a congressional seat, they hope their entry will spell trouble for some incumbents, mostly Democrats.
Just as Green Party presidential nominee Ralph Nader won thousands more votes in Florida than Vice President Al Gore would have needed to pick up to defeat George W. Bush there and win the presidency, the Greens once again could find themselves playing the role of spoiler in tight contests.
"If incumbents in Congress give the Green Party issues to work with that put them on the wrong side of their district, then we'll take advantage of that," said Ben Manski, co-chairman of the national party.
Despite their image as tree-huggers, the party members' No. 1 issue has morphed in recent years from the environment to trade. At the top of the 2002 agenda is the "fast-track" trade legislation, which would give the president more authority to negotiate and accelerate trade deals and which the Greens are lobbying hard to defeat.
So far, the party has targeted nine members of Congress identified as swing votes on the legislation. Most of those are Democrats who represent districts with significant working-class populations, the kinds of voters who the Greens believe might be swayed by their anti-corporate stance on trade issues.
The Democrats on the Green "hit list" so far are: Rep. Bob Clement of Tennessee; Reps. Norm Dicks and Adam Smith of Washington; Rep. Baron P. Hill of Indiana; Reps. Ron Kind and Gerald D. Kleczka of Wisconsin; and Rep. Vic Snyder of Arkansas.
Two Republicans also are targeted: Rep. Joseph R. Pitts of Pennsylvania and Rep. Mark Green of Wisconsin.
Among those nine lawmakers, Mr. Dicks, Mr. Hill and Mr. Snyder joined both Republicans in voting Thursday in favor of granting the president fast-track authority. The other four Democrats voted against the bill, which passed on a 215-214 vote.
After a decade of scattering their political energies, the Greens made a serious bid for political power last year with Mr. Nader, a high-profile consumer advocate, running for president, garnering 3 percent of the vote. The party followed it up by winning a respectable 52 of 275 mostly local contests in last month's off-year election.
Another milestone came last month when the Federal Election Commission granted the party national committee status.
Even so, Democrats and Republicans alike say they view the Greens as little more than annoying pests. For one thing, the Greens are still very much also-rans: In 2000, they nominated more than 40 congressional candidates, their highest number ever, but none came closer than getting 20 percent of the vote.
Another problem is that the Greens have recruited candidates in only five of their nine targeted races, although they actively are seeking more contenders. Then there's the question of how crucial the trade issue will appear to voters grappling with a recession and a war.
"There's potential on both sides for a Green Party candidate to swing a district the other way, as long as they have a well-funded campaign," said Carl Forti, National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman. "But free trade is not historically an issue that people vote on."
He also questioned the logic of devoting scarce resources to races against popular incumbents. The Greens have announced their intention to run candidates in only three open seats.
"While it seems like they're targeting areas where the Green Party is entrenched, they're also targeting entrenched incumbents," said Mr. Forti. "The races where they could cause trouble are the open seats."
In Wisconsin, where the Greens are taking aim at two Democrats, party officials say the party may be seen as too anti-establishment for their voters.
"[Rep.] Kleczka is in a Democratic stronghold in Milwaukee that represents a traditional working-class community," said state Democratic Party spokeswoman Andrea Rowe. "I wouldn't put them in the liberal category."
But the Greens are betting that the economic downturn will create an ideal climate for their pro-labor, anti-trade-deals platform.
"Thousands of people have already lost their jobs to these trade agreements espoused by Democrats and Republicans," said Mr. Manski. "Given the recession, fast-track and the other trade deals Congress cuts are going to be viewed by voters with a very suspicious eye."

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