Richard Rider would love to have Gov. Pete Wilson's job. He dreams of hacking away at bureaucracy, crushing all new tax legislation under a huge rubber stamp that reads "VETO." He's even imagined the sound this would make: whoooomp!
Rider, the Libertarian candidate for governor, is a realist, however. The 49-year-old stockbroker from San Diego knows that a minor party candidate such as himself has no hope of being elected governor Nov. 8. Still, he thinks he can help defeat Wilson (whom Rider deems a "wimp" and a "Benedict Arnold" masquerading as a Republican), which is why, not long ago, he wrote Democrat Kathleen Brown a letter asking for $500,000.
"I'm the Libertarian Party gubernatorial candidate. Normally that might elicit nothing more from you than a yawn. But I can get you elected," Rider wrote. "What you need is a third candidate to drain votes from Wilson. I can do that. . . . Dollar for dollar, there is no better use for your campaign funds than in my race for governor."
Rider's pitch must have sounded presumptuous coming from a man unknown to most Californians. Like the other minor party candidates for governor--Jerome McCready of the American Independent Party and Gloria La Riva of the Peace & Freedom Party--Rider was not invited to participate in the recent televised debate between Wilson and Brown. He lacks money, exposure and governmental experience.
But Rider has one very powerful thing going for him: a dissatisfied electorate. A recent Times poll shows that California voters are unhappy with Brown and Wilson and that three out of every five are planning to vote for the "lesser of two evils" for governor. If just a tiny fraction of those people vote for a so-called third party candidate, political analysts say, it could alter the race.
"In this state, where elections are won or lost by 1 or 2 points, third party candidates can decide elections," said Bill Press, chairman of the California Democratic Party, who has followed Rider's candidacy with interest. "If I had an extra $500,000, I would give it to Richard Rider and it would be money well spent. . . . Every vote he gets is one vote Pete Wilson doesn't."
Taken together, the four minor parties that have qualified to appear on the California ballot--American Independent, Green, Libertarian, and Peace & Freedom--represent 456,000 voters, or about 3% of the state's electorate.
The American Independent and Libertarian parties, though they differ on many principles, are both committed to strictly limiting the power of government and to cutting taxes. Conventional wisdom says that to vote for one of these parties' candidates is to take a vote away from a Republican candidate.
The Green and the Peace & Freedom parties, though also very different from one another, both seek social justice and equality. These parties are more likely to appeal to voters who might otherwise cast ballots for Democrats.
These minor parties' candidates face an uphill battle. Virtually ignored by the press and by their more mainstream rivals, they have trouble raising the money needed for expensive broadcast advertising and direct mail flyers. As a result, minor party candidates can campaign tirelessly, making speeches and walking precincts, and still remain largely unknown.
La Riva, the Peace & Freedom candidate for governor, is a printer and labor organizer in San Francisco. McCready, the American Independent nominee, runs a shop that sells pre-hung doors and other construction materials in Castroville. Rider, who closed his financial planning business at the end of last year, is the only minor party candidate who has campaigned for governor full time.
Nevertheless, Press, the Democratic Party chairman, believes that politicians who ignore these alternative candidates do so at their own peril. This year, he has gone so far as to donate his own money to keep a Green Party gubernatorial candidate from competing with Brown.
Leading up to the June primary election, three candidates were vying for the Green gubernatorial nomination--despite widespread concern within the party that a Green nominee would siphon votes from Brown in the general election. Then, one Green leader launched a campaign urging Greens to vote for "None of the Above"--an option that allows Greens to choose no candidate.
Eager to safeguard Brown voters, Press sent a $500 donation to the none-of-the-above campaign, dubbed Friends of Nobody. Then he sent letters to his friends asking them to do the same.
"I raised $5,000 to $6,000 or more for their campaign," Press said proudly, recalling that the effort to gain more votes for no one than for any of the candidates was successful. "Nobody won. Which I considered a victory."
Third party candidates are familiar with this kind of circular reasoning. They see no shame in losing, as long as they have introduced new ideas into the race. And they believe that every vote cast for a minor party candidate puts a little more pressure on the major parties to shape up.