In Multipolarity

By Byron Tau, The Wall Street Journal, July 1, 2016

Rising allure of alternative candidates threatens to siphon votes from Hillary Clinton

Jill Stein speaking in Atlanta on June 30, 2016 (Steve Eberhardt, Zuma Press)

Jill Stein speaking in Atlanta on June 30, 2016 (Steve Eberhardt, Zuma Press)

WASHINGTON—Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein is aggressively courting disaffected supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, potentially undermining Democratic efforts to unify the party behind presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

Ms. Stein, the presumptive Green Party nominee, has been making the case in interviews, rallies and appearances across the country that supporters of Mr. Sanders should consider casting a ballot for her in the fall, emphasizing the common agenda and progressive worldview they share.

“We’re picking up where Bernie left off. In fact, you could say we were here back in 2012 doing the same thing, long before Bernie’s campaign,” Ms. Stein said in an interview Friday.

Ms. Stein, 66, said her campaign has seen an influx of interest since Mrs. Clinton was declared the presumptive Democratic Party nominee after she secured enough delegates to deny Mr. Sanders the nomination—a point buttressed by her rising poll numbers and spiking interest on Google searches.

“For many people, we’ve been Plan B for when Bernie got shut down by the Democrats. And from my perspective, that’s pretty much what was going to happen,” she said, adding: “It’s hard to have a revolution in a counter-revolutionary party.”

With Mrs. Clinton and her likely Republican rival Donald Trump two of the most unpopular nominees in history, polls have found a growing appetite for alternatives. The most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released this past week had Ms. Stein drawing 6% of the vote nationwide in a four-way matchup with Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump, and Libertarian Gary Johnson.

Ms. Stein’s agenda calls for a higher minimum wage, a focus on renewable energy, better job security, universal health care and free education—all issues that Mr. Sanders has embraced. Their biggest contrast comes on foreign policy, where Ms. Stein has proposed massive defense cuts and disarmament.

The poll also shows that 14% of self-identified supporters of Mr. Sanders are backing Ms. Stein, while 9% say they support Mr. Trump. Another 8% say they will support the Libertarian ticket.

“Right now, she’s definitely a landing spot for Sanders supporters who are not ready to commit to Clinton or don’t like Clinton,” said Tom Jensen, the polling director at the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling.

Mr. Jensen said both the Green Party and Libertarian presidential tickets are unlikely to pull more than a few percentage points in the fall, but that margin could be a problem in tight swing states.

“In a close race, you don’t want to lose any support, of course. Just ask Al Gore, who might have been president if [Ralph] Nader had not taken votes from him,” said  Dan Pfeiffer, a former top adviser to President Barack Obama.

In the 2000 presidential race, Mr. Nader, running as head of the Green Party, drew nearly 100,000 left-leaning votes in Florida, while Democratic nominee Mr. Gore lost the state by about 500 votes to Republican nominee George W. Bush.

Mr. Nader has long objected to being called a spoiler, calling it a “politically bigoted word” in an interview this past week. “Did Gore ever call Bush a spoiler? Why not? Didn’t he take more votes away from Gore than I did?” Mr. Nader said. “I siphoned votes? How about Gore siphoning votes for me? Don’t we have an equal right to run for election?”

Ms. Stein, a Harvard-educated physician, first emerged on the political scene in Massachusetts in 2002, where she launched a bid for governor on the Green-Rainbow Party ticket. She got about 3% of the vote in a race won by future Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

She went on to run statewide in Massachusetts two more times, launching unsuccessful bids for secretary of the commonwealth in 2006 and governor in 2010. She won the Green Party presidential nomination in 2012 and drew about 479,000 votes nationwide after appearing on ballots in 36 states. This year, the party is aiming to be on the ballot in 47 states.

Her current level of support in the poll would be double the Green Party’s best-ever electoral showing at the presidential level, which was in 2000 when Mr. Nader, a consumer advocate, drew about 3% of the vote nationwide.

In addition to rising poll numbers, Google searches for the terms “third party candidate” are at their highest level recorded, according to data compiled by the digital-marketing company iQuanti earlier this year.

Search interest in “independent” or “third party” spiked in March as it became clearer that Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton were on track to be the nominees, the analysis showed. Google data show that search results for Ms. Stein have soared since April.

Most alarming for Mrs. Clinton is that the third-party candidates appear to be cutting into her clear lead against Mr. Trump. Mrs. Clinton has a five-point lead in a head-to-head matchup against Mr. Trump in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll. When the Libertarian and Green Party candidates are included, her lead declines to just one point.

Her campaign declined to comment on Ms. Stein, as did Mr. Sanders’s campaign.

Many progressives—including Sanders supporters—see the 2016 race differently from the 2000 showdown, warning that a vote for Ms. Stein is essentially a vote for Mr. Trump.

“The plan B for the political revolution that the Green Party seems to be pushing right now is the path to Chancellor Trump,” said  Neil Sroka, the communications director for the progressive group Democracy for America, which endorsed Mr. Sanders.

Ms. Stein’s campaign is planning a high-visibility appearance at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this month, where she will lead a march and host a rally.

Ms. Stein extended an offer of collaboration with Mr. Sanders on the Green Party ticket, even floating the possibility that he could capture the Green Party nomination. She is only the presumptive nominee and won’t officially be crowned until the party’s August convention in Houston.

“If he could actually make the case for why we need to have independent politics, I think it’s quite likely that he could be given the Green Party nomination,” she said, adding that she was willing to “put all possibilities on the table,” including a withdrawal from the race.

“I’m a physician, not a politician. I’m concerned with healing our very sick political system, but I do not have a political career to establish for myself. That’s not my goal here,” she said.

Activists loyal to Mr. Sanders say Ms. Stein is being seriously considered by those who feel they are unable to cast a ballot for Mrs. Clinton.

“We are not going to vote for the demon named Hillary because they are threatening us with the devil named Trump. We will vote for a saint no matter what, and if that saint is not Bernie Sanders, then we will vote for the saint named Jill Stein,” said Bill Taylor, a Philadelphia activist who is helping to plan four days of demonstrations in support of Mr. Sanders at the Democratic convention this month.

Mr. Taylor said his group would be willing to offer Ms. Stein some time at the rallies and marches that the pro-Sanders forces have reserved at the convention.

YahNé Ndgo, another Philadelphia activist and a spokeswoman for the Bernie or Bust movement, said: “For a lot of people who are in the Bernie or Bust movement, Hillary Clinton is just as bad as Donald Trump. And for some people, Hillary Clinton is worse than Donald Trump.”

Related reading:
Jill Stein to Bernie Sanders: ‘Join the Green Party ticket’, interview with Jill Stein, Green Party candidate for U.S. president, broadcast by Truthdig, June 8, 2016

Dr. Jill Stein, candidate for Green Party presidential nomination in the U.S. (earlier interviews in 2016 with Dr. Jill Stein)

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