WASHINGTON – The Maryland Green Party enters the last two months of the campaign season with seven candidates on the ballot for congressional races, the largest number of hopefuls from a third party in state history.
Few political observers are giving the third-party candidates much chance of winning, but the Greens said the fact that they are able to compete is a victory in itself.
“Would we be disappointed if we didn’t pick up any seats? No, just getting on the ballot is a success,” said Nina Rutledge, co-chair of the Maryland Green Party.
Until Maryland’s highest court ruled in the party’s favor last summer, however, just getting on the ballot was a challenge for third parties like the Greens.
Green congressional nominee David M. Gross was kept off the ballot in 2000 because of a rule that said alternative parties first had to obtain 10,000 signatures to be recognized as a political party in the state. After that hurdle was cleared, candidates belonging to those parties had to secure additional signatures, making up 1 percent of the electorate, to have their names appear on ballots.
The Greens challenged the policy in court, and the Maryland Court of Appeals in June 2003 found the two-petition hurdle unconstitutional.
Buoyed by last year’s ruling, Maryland Greens set out to recruit as many candidates as possible.
“It’s been a watershed year for us,” said Daniel Waldman, a Green Party spokesman. Waldman attributes the party’s successful recruitment of candidates to “momentum that we have had coming out of (last summer’s) ruling.”
In addition to the congressional seats, eight Greens are competing in Baltimore City Council elections this November. Rutledge said many state Greens wanted to concentrate on the city races, but the party decided to field a slate of congressional candidates because it thought the increased visibility would help in the long term.
A state Democratic official said he was not worried about any threat posed by the Greens.
“I don’t think anyone could name a single one of them,” said Josh White, executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.
Ronald Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor, agrees that the Green candidates do not pose an immediate challenge to their more entrenched counterparts.
But while Walters does not expect the Greens to become a “bona fide third party,” he does think that individual Green candidates could affect future races by taking votes away from Democrats in closely contested districts.
“I expect that their value would be that if the Republican Party becomes a force in the state over time, they could become a balance between the two major parties in a given race,” Walters said.
But some Greens, undaunted by doubters, are keeping their fingers crossed.
Asked which of the candidates has the best chance of winning, Rutledge mentions Theresa Dudley, a fourth-grade teacher challenging Rep. Albert R. Wynn, D-Largo, in the 4th District.
“She’s a very strong candidate with a history of running hard,” Rutledge said.
A recent convert to the Greens, Dudley made three unsuccessful bids for Prince George’s County Council as a Democrat. In her last race, Dudley came within 5 percentage points of beating current Councilman David Harrington in a 2002 primary.
Dudley said Harrington was endorsed by Wynn in that race, and she is disturbed by what she calls Wynn’s meddling in local races.
While she may have had some success at the county level, however, running as a third-party candidate for a congressional seat is a much more formidable task: Ninety-six percent of House incumbents won re-election in 2002, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. And Wynn won his last race with more than 78 percent of the vote.
“But Goliath was a favorite too, wasn’t he?” Dudley asked.
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