Nader supporters got their candidate on Virginia's presidential ballot - but will it make a difference in November? 

It's Not Easy Being Green

Getting a third-party candidate onto the ballot in Virginia involves clearing some unusual hurdles. For one Green Party worker, getting enough signatures also got her into a confrontation with police. Terry Brown, a petition drive organizer for the Ralph Nader Green Party campaign, said police officers and private-property owners often would not let them do their work.

"Very few businesses allowed us to petition in front of their stores," Brown says. "We were stopped at the Carytown Watermelon Festival. He (the police officer) said it was a private event."

Getting the required 10,000 signatures, 400 from each congressional district is a difficult task, and an unpaid one at that.

But despite these problems Virginia Green Party volunteers have secured consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader's place on the presidential ballot in the Old Dominion. During the last six months the Green Party dispatched volunteers to every city and county in the state where they grabbed signatures outside of storefronts, shopping malls and convenience stores. When they finally turned in their petitions Aug. 24 they had pulled more than 23,000 signatures.

Like Brown, ballot drive coordinator Dana Woods ran into her share of trouble getting signatures. She is critical of a state system that makes it difficult to get a candidate onto the ballot. Few states require such a large number of signatures. To Woods, Virginia's policy is evidence of a political "monopoly" designed to serve the interests of the Democratic and Republican parties.

But Democratic Party executive Craig Bieber sees the large number of presidential candidates on the Virginia ballot as proof that the requirements are reasonable.

"There are six candidates on the ballot," Bieber says. "If you are a serious and credible candidate you can get enough signatures to get on the ballot."

But with their candidate on the ballot there is little time to celebrate. Until Election Day, Nader organizers will be working hard to get the word out. "One of the big differences between the Green Party and the Democratic and Republican parties is that we are not a professional party," Brown says. "It's a party made up of workers and students. No one gets paid. There are no corporate donors, no PACs." And no party headquarters: Workers meet Friday nights in the Main Street Grill to coordinate their efforts for the coming week.

Despite a relatively small number of supporters, Nader still could affect the presidential race. Nader has been polling between 4 and 7 percent nationwide. Virginia Republican Party Executive Director Ed Matricardi sees the Nader campaign as a boost for George W. Bush.

"I think that most of those (Nader) voters would be Gore supporters," Matricardi says. "I think that he has the real possibility of taking votes away from Gore because of Lieberman on the ticket. He (Lieberman) angered the unions because of (his support) of NAFTA. He's offended teachers because he's a vouchers guy. He's offended African-Americans because he's opposed affirmative action. He's a big proponent of missile defense."

Nader's showing in battleground states is where he could have a real effect, according to Matricardi.

"He's getting over 10 percent in California," Matricardi says. "If Nader gets 5 percent nationwide, but 13 percent in Michigan that would not be good (for Gore). I don't see how Gore can win the battleground states if Nader takes a significant percent of the votes."

But Bieber doesn't see Nader as much of a threat to Gore. He believes that many potential Green Party voters will see that the vice president is a leader with much more credibility on environmental issues than the Texas governor. Bieber points to Gore's book "Earth In Balance" as proof that the Democratic candidate is serious about protecting the environment.

"I don't see any major impact by the Nader candidacy or any other (third party) candidates," Bieber says. "People who are attracted to Nader's stance on the environment and the influence of big oil companies should vote for Al Gore."

While the polls show Nader to be a threat, Bieber says that when Election Day arrives many of these people will pull the lever for Gore.

"The history of third party candidates over the last 50 years has shown they get fewer votes than they're projected to get," Bieber says. "When they get in the voting booth they decide they don't want to throw a vote away. Someone who is pro-environment who votes for Nader is cutting off his nose to spite his face."

But Greens seem to see very little difference between the two parties or their candidates. "By early August, the Republicans were meeting records [in fund-raising] Brown says. "They raised $93 million for Bush. The Democrats raised $52 million for Gore. Most of the contributions come from the same individuals. There are very little differences between who donates to the Republican Party and the Democratic

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