Green Party gubernatorial hopeful Peter Miguel Camejo was the prime beneficiary of voters' discontent with California's two major-party candidates, polling better than even he expected and giving a boost, he said, to future Green campaigns.
Third-party candidates had their best showing in a California election since 1934. Although still polling in the single digits in early returns, and well behind Democratic Gov. Gray Davis and Republican Bill Simon Jr., Camejo was the clear leader among the second tier.
"What we are seeing is a true protest vote," said veteran political consultant Rick Taylor. "People are saying it's time for a real change. It should be a wake-up call to the major-party candidates."
Preparing to address about 125 supporters gathered at the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland on Tuesday evening, Camejo said the returns were "beyond anything we expected."
"I am surprised by the degree that the Latino community is breaking from the Democratic Party," Camejo said. "There is a feeling of betrayal by Davis."
From the start of his campaign, Camejo, 62, said he had no illusion that he would become California's next governor, but he relished the threat his candidacy could pose to Davis by peeling off liberal voters.
He bluntly said he was unconcerned about the possibility of tipping the election in favor of Simon. "The Democrats whine about Greens running. Why shouldn't people feel free to vote for who they want?" he said.
He said he was hopeful that the results would boost the Green Party's clout in state elections. "We believe we will soon have people winning legislative seats," Camejo said.
Born in New York to one of Venezuela's wealthiest families, Camejo became an activist while attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he enrolled in 1958. He dropped out to march for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and, later, to organize against the Vietnam War.
Like many radicals during the 1960s, Camejo found his way to UC Berkeley, where his role in campus activism convinced then-Gov. Ronald Reagan to brand him "one of the most dangerous men in America."
In 1976, Camejo ran for president on the Socialist ticket, winning 91,314 votes.