Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader waded into the debate over Minnesota's Senate race. During a stop in Minnesota, Nader said he considers DFL Sen. Paul Wellstone 'the best senator currently serving in Congress.' But Nader did not urge Green Party members to vote for Wellstone. He says if the Greens are going to build their party, they have to support Green Party candidates.
Green Party members have been divided over the U.S. Senate race since their state convention in May, when a group called "Greens for Wellstone" urged the party to throw its support behind the two-term senator. The convention rejected that idea, and endorsed author and veteran Ed McGaa.
But many Green Party activists became concerned about some of McGaa's positions, and McGaa was defeated in the September primary by writer and teacher Ray Tricomo. The party's presidential candidate in both 1996 and 2000, consumer advocate Ralph Nader stopped short of endorsing Tricomo during a Green Party fundraiser in Minneapolis. But Nader says there's no reason for the party to back Wellstone.
"Look, if you're in the business of building a party, then you go with your candidates. Otherwise, quit!" he said.
Nader says if Wellstone is leading in the polls, Green Party members should vote Green. Recent polls show Wellstone and Republican Norm Coleman in a statistical dead heat.
Tricomo and Independence Party candidate Jim Moore each garnered two-percent of the vote in the latest Minnesota Public Radio-St. Paul Pioneer Press poll. Nader says it may then be up to each Green Party member to decide whether to vote their conscience or vote strategically.
"If the day of the election, it's razor-thin, and you want to go through that calculus, the Senate can be lost and you have Hatch the head of the Judiciary Committee, you make the decision in private, whatever way you want. But you don't officially discourage all your workers, all your volunteers, by doing it as a party," he said.
Nader told party activists that Wellstone is the best senator on most of the issues the Green Party supports. But he criticized Wellstone for voting for the Patriot Act, which gives the government more power to investigate and prosecute suspected terrorists.
Some Greens say while they've supported Wellstone in the past, they're voting for Tricomo this time. Eric Makela of Minneapolis says he respects Wellstone, but thinks it's time to replace him with Tricomo.
"I think Paul has not been able to speak strongly enough on the things that are important to us. One of the big things is even - especially right now, as we move forward to war - it's like I am not hearing the quote-unquote most progressive candidate articulating non-violence," he said.
Other Green Party members say the stakes are too high to vote for Tricomo. Patricia McGrath of Minneapolis says she thinks Wellstone needs every vote he can get to win in November.
"He's probably one of the people who really espouses the Green values. I think he has a very tough situation - all the money and Bush coming at least twice to our state," she said.
Wellstone's campaign spokesman, Jim Farrell, says Wellstone is working hard to get the Green vote. Farrell says he thinks most Green Party members will vote for Wellstone, because he's been a champion on environmental and social issues they support.
Ray Tricomo says he believes he can beat Wellstone. "I'm hearing this rather tiresome idea that I'm taking votes away from Paul Wellstone. Well, I think Paul Wellstone's taking votes away from me," Tricomo said.
Tricomo says the same charge was made in the 2000 election, when Ralph Nader was accused of taking votes away from Democrat Al Gore. Tricomo says he would have liked an outright endorsement from Nader, but after meeting with him, Tricomo says he thinks Nader supports his campaign.
"Well, he certainly didn't say 'no.' So with Ralph, I'd take that as a 'yes'," Tricomo said.
Nader's speech in Minneapolis raised several thousand dollars for the Green Party, which plans to use the money for get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of statewide candidates. While the state party is backing Tricomo, the Green Party of Washington County broke ranks last week and endorsed Wellstone.