A potential spoiler effect in 10 close races for the House, the Senate and Governor’s seats
Over 200 Green candidates are running in the midterms in at least 30 states. A large majority of them are running either for local or state legislative office or for higher offices that are not competitive, because either the Democrat or Republican has a very strong lead over his or her chief opponent. There is no reason, this year, for any special concern about Green involvement in such contests.
But there are three Senate, five House and two gubernatorial contests—all very close—in which a serious Green Party spoiler effect could occur. Even if this effect is manifested in only one or two cases, it could have a pivotal effect on who controls Congress if the Blue Wave is less than expected or the Red counter-wave is stronger than expected.
Note: Green Party members and people who sometimes vote for Green candidates—and often vote Democratic in a particular race if there’s no Green on the ballot or if they think the Democratic candidate is better than the Green candidate—should think twice before voting Green in the below races. This is not because these Green candidates are bad people, or that you should automatically discount them in an ordinary election season. But this is not an ordinary election season. We are, from now through the 2020 presidential election (and perhaps beyond), in a “special period.” As most liberals, progressives, and moderate Democrats—as well as the majority of voters in most minority communities—are now painfully aware, each in their own way, we need to focus on stopping Trump, his Congressional puppets, and their horrific agenda. This is clear to leading progressives such as Bernie Sanders, Rev. William Barber, Jr., Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. I would hope that many Green activists and voters are also beginning to understand the clear and present danger we face.
10 Candidates, 10 Conundrums
Some of the contests below are fascinating in what they reveal about the Greens, about the Democrats, and about the vagaries of the spoiler effect. I have thus inserted some commentary (and a dash of polemics) into the descriptions. The basic facts of each race and the polls thereon are taken mostly from Ballotpedia.
In three of the cases below, the Green is the only minor party candidate on the ballot; in others, the ballot includes at least one other minor party candidate and/or non-party independent candidate. This is spelled out in each case. When the Green is the only one, his or her spoiler effect would be easy to recognize whether or not it succeeded in providing the full margin of victory for the Republican candidate. There is one case where the combined votes of the Greens and a pro-medical marijuana party (or in another case, where the combined votes of the Greens and an independent candidate) might together take enough votes from the Democrat to produce a Republican margin of victory.
In Missouri, incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill is neck and neck with the state’s Republican Attorney General, Josh Hawley. The Cook Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball (hereafter, “Cook” and “Sabato”) both judge the race a toss-up as of Oct. 30. McCaskill is the type of moderate that some progressives scorn, but if she and other moderate Democratic Senators lose their races, stopping Trump’s dismantling of our democracy will remain extremely difficult even with control of the House. The minor candidates are Jo Crain of the Greens, Japheth Campbell of the Libertarians and also a non-party independent. Crain, a retired Sprint technical services worker, mother of three and grandmother of six is also a longtime political activist and the organizations she’s supported are not very different from those backed by tens of thousands of progressive Democrats who’ve thrown themselves into this year’s fight to take back Congress. (Cain’s positions on issues that appear on her web page, however, are pretty much the same as those of any Democrat running in a relatively conservative state or district.) With the Green label and her personal commitment to activism, she could siphon off enough votes from progressive Democrats and left-leaning independents to provide a tiny margin of victory for Hawley if the difference between the two main candidates narrows to a razor’s edge.
In Arizona, where the possibility of picking up a Senate seat became possible for the Democrats after Jeff Flake announced he would be retiring, the race between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (currently the House member for Arizona’s 9th CD) and Republican Martha McSally (House member for the 2nd CD) has been close from the beginning. Cook and Sabato both called the contest a toss-up as of Oct. 30. Sinema was once a Green but after joining the Democrats she became more moderate and in the House she has sought to work with Republicans on some issues. The Greens who scorn her for this, might ponder her words on universal health care in a 2014 interview: “I used to say that I wanted universal health-care coverage in Arizona, which went over like a ton of bricks. Turns out, Arizonans hear the world ‘universal’ and think ‘socialism’…But when I say that I want all Arizonans to have access to affordable, quality health care, Arizonans agree wholeheartedly. Same basic idea, different language.” Some of the Green candidates profiled here use a not dissimilar semantic caution from time to time (like Michael White in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race).
Angela Green, a mortgage loan officer who was going to run for Lt. Gov. with gubernatorial candidate Angel Torres, became the Green’s Senate candidate after the petitions of a former candidate were successfully challenged. The platform on Green’s campaign website is quite good: net neutrality, more financial help for Arizona teachers, organic farming tax breaks, defense of freedom of the press, and a nuanced position on gun control. I was taken aback, however, by her statement claiming to represent those who are “tired of having to deal with the antics of Red and Blue,” as if the Democratic resistance to Trump can be equated with the President’s politics of hate and fear. But on Nov. 1, according to Ballotpedia, Angela Green “withdrew from the race and endorsed Sinema.”
I am keeping this example on my list since Green’s name is on the ballot regardless of her announcement; early voting has been in process since Oct. 10; and many if not most voters will be unaware on Election Day that Green has withdrawn her candidacy. Polls in October gave Green 1% to 3% of the vote—that might just be enough for a classic spoiler effect. Even if not, the results for the Green Party, as the only minor party in this race, may be useful in studying the Greens’ potential for triggering a spoiler effect in the Presidential and Congressional races in 2020.
In New Jersey, Democratic Senator Bob Menendez is in a close battle with Republican Bob Hugin, a pharmaceutical executive. As of Oct. 30, Cook says it’s a toss-up, while Sabato says it’s likely Democratic. Menendez’s reputation was tarnished by a federal indictment on corruption charges (2015) and a trial (2017) that resulted in a hung jury and a mistrial followed by a Justice Department decision (January 2018) to drop all charges against him. Hugin has hit Menendez hard on the corruption issue, and voters may not listen to the Democratic public figures now rallying to Menendez’s support. The Green candidate is Madelyn Hoffman, recently retired director of New Jersey Peace Action, in which capacity she long worked with New Jersey Democrats and admired Menendez for his vote against the Iraq war. (She also has a long relation to the Greens, having run as their candidate for governor in 1997.) In an August interview with Insider NJ, she expressed a jaded but not especially hostile attitude to the Democrats—and she supports ranked choice voting (a proposed system under which Green voters could choose to have their vote go to the Democratic candidate once their first-choice Green is bumped for insufficient votes). Also on the ballot are Libertarian candidate Murray Sabrin and four independents with the non-party designations “New Day NJ,” “Make It Simple,” “For the People,” and “Economic Growth.” Polls show that the percentage of voters in this race who are willing to expend their vote on a minor party is down around one percent. But in an extremely close race, that might be enough (remember Florida in 2000). The choice for voters in Blue State New Jersey is clear: cast your ballots based on allegations of corruption in a single race (as the Republicans wish you to do) or vote to win a Senate majority that could put a check on the most corrupt administration in U.S. history—an administration that Hugin, not Menendez, is pledged to support.
U.S. House of Representatives:
In New York’s 19th CD (Hudson Valley and the Catskills), Green candidate Steve Greenfield, a professional musician and a resident of college-town New Paltz, where he is a former school board member, may siphon votes away from Democrat Antonio Delgado, who is challenging incumbent Republican John Faso. As of Oct. 30, the race between he two main candidates is regarded as a toss-up according to both Cook and Sabato. The Monmouth University Polling Institute regards the 19th as a “pivot” district—it voted for Obama in 2012 but then voted for Trump in 2016. Faso won it by 8 points as an open seat in 2016 against progressive Democrat Zephyr Teachout, and is attempting to defeat Delgado via coded racist attacks on his past in hip-hop music. Greenfield, a professional musician as well as a former local school board member, demolished Faso’s “dog-whistle attacks” in an essay on his website that also included a restrained dig at Delgado’s record as a corporate attorney. Greenfield’s platform includes standard Green policy goals (single-payer healthcare, a “Green New Deal,” cutbacks in defense spending) but he also appeals to his district in a manner not very different from a moderate Democrat; e.g., he’s described as a leader in the “fight to eliminate property taxes as the primary source of public education funding.”
Greenfield is an example of the quandary that will face many independent-minded voters (both this year and in 2020) when faced with an appealing Green candidate in a neck-and-neck Democrat-Republican contest where there’s just too much at stake to vote Green. The same might be said regarding the independent non-party candidate on the ballot, TV actress Diane Neal, who is best known for her roles in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and NCIS. Neal says she’s disillusioned with today’s professional politician class and stated on a Ballotpedia questionnaire that she wants to turn NY19 into the “Silicon valley of renewable energy resources” and that her heroes are RFK, MLK and Carl Sagan. Judging solely by their public statements, I would say that if Greenfield and Neal haven’t found a home in Democratic politics, the party has only itself to blame.
In New Jersey’s 7th CD, Democrat Tom Malinowski is challenging incumbent Republican Leonard Lance for a seat Lance has held since 2008. Cook and Sabato both call the race a toss-up as of Oct. 30, but a Siena College poll (Oct. 28-31) of the likely electorate found that 14% of voters are “undecided/other.” The other candidates on the ballot are Gregg Mele, the “Freedom, Responsibility, Action” candidate (endorsed by the Libertarians) and Green Party candidate Diane Moxley, a Legal Services attorney in Newark for over 14 years. Moxley told the New York Times at the national Green conference in July that she thinks there’s “no difference in New Jersey, between the two major parties.” Her Facebook page depicts a campaign utilizing door-to-door canvassing and yard signs for herself and Madelyn Hoffman, the Green candidate in the Menendez-Hugin Senate race. She also publicizes her campaign through live-streaming with Real Progressives, a video community. Malinowski, the supposedly no-different-from-the-Republicans candidate from whom she will be siphoning votes, was the Washington director of Human Rights Watch from 2001 to 2013, fighting to end the Bush administration’s use of black sites and torture. From 2014 to 2017, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor in the Obama administration, working to help religious minorities brutalized by ISIS, defending LGBT communities around the world, and pushing human rights sanctions against North Korean and Russian officials. (The point here is not to compare Malinowski with Lance or even with Moxley, but to show the difference in this case between the real candidate and his extraordinary track record, on the one hand, and the stereotype about Democrats in the heads of so many Greens, on the other.)
In a Nov. 1 statement on her campaign Facebook page, Moxley presented a list of all the good things she’d fight for and urged the reader to “give serious consideration to voting for your values instead of from a place of fear.” Moxley’s use of “fear” (aka “hysteria”) is Greenspeak for the Democrats urging people to vote for their candidates—not Green candidates—to win back Congress from Trump’s control. But the people who are really using fear are the Republicans, and they are doing it—through their bigoted attacks on minorities and immigrants—to polarize the country and keep power. The Democrats have a rational message: what the Republicans and Trump are doing to America needs to be fought back against hard with the most effective weapon we have at this point—our vote at the ballot box to achieve a Democratic majority in Congress. Any clear-headed progressive should be fearful—for the survival of democracy in our country. If the Greens aren’t, it suggests they have a narrow cultish focus on their own organization’s unrealistic ambitions at the expense of everyone else.
In Illinois’s 12th CD, Democrat Brendan Kelly—a prosecutor and former Navy officer—is challenging Republican incumbent Mike Bost, a former Marine and owner of a nail salon business. Before Bost’s election in 2014 (which was preceded by redistricting in 2011), the seat had been Democratic since 1993. Cook and Sabato both rated the contest a toss-up through mid-October but as of Oct. 30 rate it “Lean Republican.” A New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll of the likely electorate taken Oct. 18-22, however, found 11% of the likely electorate still undecided. On Oct. 27, Trump staged a rally in the district, at Murphysboro, to help Bost and several other Republican candidates. Democrat Kelly presents as a moderate Democrat and emphasizes fixing up and expanding the district’s infrastructure; he pledges to go after “Big Pharma” and its lobbyists in Washington, holding the drug companies responsible for the opioid epidemic and giving Medicare the power to negotiate prices of medications. The only minor party candidate in this race is the Greens’ Randy Auxier, a professor of Philosophy and Communication Studies at Southern Illinois University Carbondale who has written or edited several books in philosophy, also writes on popular culture and Protestant theology, and is a United Methodist Church Sunday School teacher. In his replies to a Belleville News-Democrat profile questionnaire, Auxier goes into considerable depth on the local and national economy, focusing especially on the steel industry and trade policy. On healthcare, he’s for replacing the ACA with a single-payer universal healthcare system, which he believes would make it easy to get a handle on the opioid epidemic. Auxier says, “I’m running and I aim to win.” But there is no Illinois B in which he might actually win. The moderate Democrat Kelly is at this point the only choice for those in the 12th CD who want to take back our real Congress.
In Iowa’s 3rd CD, the race is a toss-up between Democrat Cindy Axne, a small business owner, and incumbent Republican David Young. Young has held the seat since 2014. Obama won the district by 4 points in 2012, Trump by 4 points in 2016. A New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll of the likely electorate conducted Oct. 25-27 puts Axe ahead of Young by two points with 11% percent of respondents undecided. Cook and Sabato both say the race is a toss-up as of Oct. 30. There are four minor candidates on the ballot: Rev. Paul Knupp of the Greens, Mark G. Elworth Jr. of the Legal Medical Now Party, Bryan Holder of the Libertarian Party, and an independent who ran unsuccessfully against Young in a prior election. Knupp is a Protestant minister who has lived in Iowa for over 40 years and has served 11 churches in the state, seven of them in rural settings. He has also worked as a mental health counselor at public hospitals. He grew up in a “union family” and is a strong supporter of the labor movement and an advocate of the social gospel and liberation theology. According to his Ballotpedia survey responses he is in favor of “Medicare for all,” “unions for all” and “clean water for all,” and pledges to “caucus with the Democrats” if elected.
Democratic candidate Axne is a fifth generation Iowan, a parent and a community activist. She and her husband own a small business but she also has a decade of experience working in state government. Her platform includes a plan for moving towards universal health care while protecting the ACA. She says climate change is real and Iowa can best help combat it by developing renewable energy industries. She also calls for overturning Citizens United, standing by our unions, protecting social security and Medicare, defending the LGBTQ community, and halting the closure of hospitals in rural areas. She supports equal pay legislation and a National Paid Family Leave Act. I read this platform and wondered: why would the Greens want to target her? If she were an incumbent with a secure seat, I could see them running one of their educate-the-voters type campaigns and prodding her on her failings. But why now? Do they really think there’s no difference between her and the Republican Party of Trump?
Ohio’s 12th CD, as of Oct. 30, is a tossup according to Cook and leans Republican according to Sabato; however, two polls earlier that month (Oct. 11-13 and Oct. 20-22) showed 6% of the likely electorate as “Undecided/Other.” In the special election last August, Republican Troy Balderson narrowly won against Democrat Danny O’Connor. Green candidate Joe Manchik, a self-employed telecommunications engineer, was the only minor party candidate. He gained 1,129 votes, 436 votes short of providing Balderson’s margin of victory. Such can be the effect of the “Green” label, even with minimal campaigning. Although the Manchik vote amounted to only 0.6% of the total vote, it should be compared to the 3.6% (13,474 votes) he won in 2016 for the same seat. In that year, however, Republican incumbent Patrick Tiberi had a huge lead over his Democratic opponent—just the kind of race that has none of the sense of urgency (on either side) that usually prevents voters in a tighter race from “wasting” their votes. Manchik is also on the ballot in November’s replay of the Balderson-O’Connor battle and is again the only minor party candidate. He says in his platform that “we need to overthrow the corporate-capitalist and corporate owned Democratic-Republican Duopoly Party” (as good an excuse as any for letting Trump continue to control all three branches of government). Manchik won brief notoriety after the special election because of a statement on his Facebook page that he had “distant relatives” who “originally came to planet Earth from a planet orbiting a star in the Pleiades star cluster located in the constellation of Taurus.” I personally regard that view as benign and relatively sane in comparison to the utterly unhinged beliefs of the Christian Dominion dystopians, white supremacists and Alex Jones-loving conspiracy addicts who flock to Trump rallies.
These contests are important because a Democratic governor will hopefully be able to rally the party and many independents for the Democratic candidate for President in 2020, and can offer strong resistance to Republican attempts at voter suppression. I do not include races in which a Green candidate for governor is running in a state that is safe-Democratic-incumbent or safe-Republican-incumbent on the gubernatorial level (e.g., New York and Maryland, respectively). Lack of time prevented me from examining races in which the Greens have offered candidates for Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and other statewide offices. As we can see in what’s happening in Georgia and Kansas now, Republicans in positions such as Secretary of State are not above using their power to engage in egregious voter suppression.
In Ohio, the governor’s seat is open, because term limits prevent popular Governor John Kasich (R) from running again. As of Oct. 30, Cook and Sabato both regard the contest as a toss-up between Richard Cordray (D), former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau so hated by the Right (prior to that, he was Ohio’s Attorney General from 2009 to 2011) and Ohio’s current Attorney General Mike DeWine (R). Drawing votes away from Cordray will be the co-chair of the Ohio Green Party, Constance Gadell-Newton, an attorney who practices criminal defense and juvenile law. Probably drawing from the Republicans will be Travis Irvine, the Libertarian candidate. Gadell-Newton’s “Constance for Ohio” Facebook page shows evidence of vigorous campaigning at parades, forums and house parties, and at county Green Party events to whip up the faithful, as well as through canvassing and getting supporters to put up yard signs. The energetic Gadell-Newton may do unusually well for a Green, especially via campaign planks such as universal, single-payer health care, clean energy to combat global warming, and protections for low-income workers. But articles in the Toledo Blade and Cincinnati Inquirer suggest that her main aim is to get 3% of the vote in order to keep, under Ohio law, the party’s status as a recognized minority party and thus its guaranteed ballot access in Ohio elections. But if Gadell-Newton ends up in a spoiler role, she may destroy something far more important than her party’s ballot status. For it is Cordray, not the Green candidate, who is poised to break up the Republicans’ trifecta control of the state and squelch their plans to (a) intensify their voter suppression efforts and thus guarantee that Trump wins Ohio in 2020 and (b) gain an unbeatable gerrymander advantage from the 2020 census. And what will Gadell-Newton’s 3% of the vote give us? An opportunity for the Greens to repeat their 2016 spoiler role for Trump in 2020?
In Wisconsin, incumbent Governor Scott Walker is in a very close race with Democratic challenger Tony Evers, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Cook and Sabato both rate the race a toss-up as of Oct. 30. The Green candidate is Michael J. White, a former U.S. Air Force physician now in private practice in La Crosse. The ballot also includes two other minor party candidates, Phillip Anderson (Libertarian Party) and Arnie Enz (Wisconsin Party) as well as an independent candidate. From an interview with White that I watched on YouTube, he comes across at first as an impressive candidate with detailed mastery of the issues facing his state, pragmatic, willing to work with both major parties, agilely fielding questions on property taxes, gun laws and fracking—for all the world a Democratic moderate. On opiates he acknowledges that “we physicians” are a big part of the problem. On global warming, he recognizes the “existential” nature of the threat and has proposals for what could be done about it in Wisconsin.
But when he gets on the question of spoilers and the 2016 election, suddenly we’re in Jill Stein country: the Democrats want us to “vote our fears” [precisely what Trump is doing, and with the implication that we should be more concerned about the Democrats than Trump]…the Democrats and Republicans are like two “tribes” and “I don’t belong to either tribe…” [note the implication that both parties are equally responsible for the tribalism that in fact evolved from Fox News and rightwing Republican politics and was brought to a head by Trump, not the Democrats].
It would appear that White, in spite of his ability to package his message for maximum effect among voters who are far from being radicals, is trapped in the cognitive box that for three decades has doomed the Greens to ineffectualness in U.S. politics, except in the one thing they are in denial about—how their plague-on-both-houses ideological stance has steered them into being unwitting Republican enablers at the worst historic moments. He admits he can’t win, so what is he doing siphoning votes from Evers in a manner that could only help produce a third term in office for Scott Walker—the infamous union buster and driving force behind some of the harshest voter suppression measures in the nation?
It may be that the Blue Wave will be larger than I think and will render the spoiler effect of the Greens, Libertarians, etc. in the above races meaningless (I certainly hope so). But whatever happens, I want to make it clear that (a) I’m concerned here with potential Green spoiler effects under the emergency conditions of this election and of the elections in 2020 and thereafter until the Trump regime of hate is brought down, not with what the Greens might do thereafter or in any races today or in 2020 that lack a clear potential for a spoiler effect; and (b) I don’t think the Greens sat down and plotted to help Trump by entering the races described above. The Greens are a federation of autonomous state organizations each of which makes its own decisions about who to run (often it boils down simply to who is willing to run) and for what office. Some of the state Green organizations, as in Florida, did not put up candidates for the Senate or the House, and almost certainly many if not most of their members and voters will vote Democratic in the Congressional races and gubernatorial races, while voting Green in local and state legislative contests.
The problem here is a set of beliefs that, although not universally held in the Green movement or among its voters, is influential among many of its leading activists. The central belief is that the Democrats and Republicans are equally bad and corrupt, and to vote for the Democrats as the lesser evil is to sell out. Thus if the Greens put up a particular candidate for Congress they may simply not care if their candidate is going to undermine the Democrats’ fight to win back Congress. They don’t share the urgency the rest of us feel about achieving this goal. Green Party national co-chair Gloria Mattera, in a telephone interview with me, referred sarcastically to “Blue Wave hysteria.”
Green activists who have absorbed this mindset are not helping their party. They are keeping it blind to the possibilities of joining the vast movement now uniting liberals, progressives, centrists, minority communities and women across this land to save our democracy, and instead are retreating into a tunnel focus on how to position their candidates to win just enough votes in a particular state to gain or keep automatic Green ballot access for four more years. Not much different from what the Greens have been doing in the U.S. for the past 30 years and never really gaining much traction (Jill Stein with all her media attention in 2016, got only 1.07 percent of the national vote).
After Nov. 6, I’ll post a follow-up article about the views that motivate the Greens and why they continue to set themselves apart—in a strange ideological bubble—from the huge and exciting mass resistance movement to take back America, step by step, from the increasingly authoritarian Washington trifecta.
There is no Planet B.
There is no America B.
Green supporters should vote Democratic in all close congressional and gubernatorial races on November 6.