Thursday, December 11, 2003

Interesting story from northern California. Democrat Gavin Newsom was narrowly elected mayor of San Francisco is a tight runoff with Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez, who heads the city's board of supervisors. The near-win by Gonzalez, who reportedly got a majority of votes cast on the actual runoff Election Day, is amazing considering what he was up against.

San Francisco is an overwhelmingly Democratic city with about 54% of registered voters belong to that one party. Gonzalez spent about 1/9 of the $3.6 million spent by the Democrat. Newsom received ensorsement from both of the city's major newspapers, the outgoing Democratic mayor and nearly every high ranking Democratic official in California as well as Bill Clinton and Al Gore. But despite Greens only accounting for 3% of San Francisco's population, Gonzalez received 47% of the total vote and, as mentioned earlier, a majority of votes cast on the actual day of the vote.

Christopher Scheer, of AlterNet, wondered, How many times must the public send the message before the Democratic Party decides to stop shooting the messenger? The Gore-Bush contest of 2000, the 2002 mid-term elections, the California recall, and now the astonishing near-defeat of Gavin Newsom in San Francisco's mayor's race, each contain the same crystal-clear message: choosing Republican Lite-weights to represent the Democratic Party makes a lousy political strategy.

But the Democratic establishment would rather blame Nader and the Florida freaks. Blame Arnold and the Recall Repubs. Blame last-second progressive S.F. mayoral candidate Matt Gonzalez and his hipster horde. Blame "Mean" Dean and his Internet machine. Blame 9/11, late-night GOP roll-call votes ... anybody, in fact, but itself.

The sad, mostly unacknowledged fact is that in the shadow of Bill Clinton's enormous charisma and political brilliance, the Democratic Party has been steadily receding in influence across this country for more than a decade. Congress, gubernatorial races, city elections – you name it, and they've lost it. And the reason is simple: because the Democratic Party is too busy raising money to connect with the American people.

Gonzalez's near win in one of the most overwhelmingly Democratic cities in the country certainly puts a large dent in the myth that Greens should make themselves disappear from the political spectrum because are "unelectable."

In a related note, a USA Today/Gallup poll released in October found that 23% of those surveyed felt that Ralph Nader should run for president in 2004. The same poll also found that 52% rejected the idea that Nader's 2000 run cost Democrat Al Gore the election (vs 41% that agreed) and that 28% said they've voted for an independent or third party candidate for president. I'm sure some will focus on whether Nader should run in 2004 and others, especially Democrats, will continue to look backward and whine about 2000, but this is missing the bigger picture.

Assuming the representativity of the poll (which is always questionable), this suggests that about 1/4 of voters feel the need to look outside the two biggest parties. 1/4 feel that smaller parties have something to offer that Democrats and Republicans do not. Instead of smearing these people or minimizing their relevance like the Democratic Leadership Council types would do, perhaps the two major parties would do better listening to the views of these folks.

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