As he stepped up to a makeshift podium at a restaurant not far
from the Vermont State Capitol, Progressive Party gubernatorial
candidate Anthony Pollina sure looked like an Election Night winner.
His supporters cheered wildly. Pollina waved them quiet and then
declared, "What we're seeing here is the beginning of a very, very
successful Progressive Party."
At a moment when many on the left are re-examining their attitude
toward third parties following Ralph Nader's controversial Green
Party run--which has been frequently condemned for drawing votes
away from Al Gore's Democrats--scrappy new progressive parties continue
to offer exciting illustrations of what can be done at the state
and local levels.
In its first official foray into the political big-time, the Vermont
Progressive Party--which advocates development of a single-payer
health care plan, living-wage jobs, protections for family farmers
and other programs designed to aid working families--earned high
marks: not just the 10 percent of the vote for Pollina, but acclaim
from the media and even other candidates. "I was the candidate who
they said won the debates," explains 48-year-old Pollina. "I was
the candidate who stuck to the issues. I was the candidate who changed
Add in several legislative seat victories and the whopping 17 percent
tallied by state treasurer candidate Claude DeLucia, and the group's
effort to crack the two-party system was looking solid. It was all
the more impressive that the breakthrough came amidst fears about
a right-wing, anti-gay challenge to Democratic Gov. Howard Dean--which
led many Pollina backers to abandon his candidacy at the last minute.
Even with the slippage, the Progressive Party won "major-party"
status along with the Democrats and Republicans. Critically, Pollina
held onto the support he had won from independent Rep. Bernie Sanders
and the 2,000-member Vermont branch of the United Electrical, Radio
and Machine Workers Union (UE).
UE also provided Nader with critical backing nationally, as did
the California Nurses Association and union locals around the country.
While few Green candidates for major offices rivaled that level
of support, California Senate candidate Medea Benjamin put together
an impressive list of union supporters, including several public
employee unions, a long list of union leaders, the San Francisco
Bay Guardian and the L.A. Weekly and, on Election Day,
A similarly broad coalition came together on behalf of New York's
Working Families Party. Under New York election laws that allow
the fusion of votes for different parties into a single vote total
for a candidate, the Working Families Party actively campaigned
for progressive voters to cast their ballots for Gore and Senate
candidate Hillary Clinton on the new party's line--as a way of nudging
the candidates to the left. Some unexpected public figures signed
onto the strategy. "It won't come as much surprise that as a Democratic
elected official, I'm supporting Al Gore and Hillary Clinton this
year," Rep. Nydia Velazquez announced just before the election.
"But what might surprise you is that I'm encouraging my friends
not to vote for them on the Democratic Party line."
Roughly 100,000 voters cast ballots for Gore and Clinton on the
Working Families line, making the party the second-largest of the
state's eight "minor" parties. The party also helped elect Suffolk
County's Pat Eddington to the state legislature with a combination
of Democratic and Working Families votes. "Progressive Democrats
like our approach," says Working Families organizer Dan Cantor,
comparing his group's strategy to the Green Party's direct challenges.
"It helps them push their party in the direction they want it to
go, without destroying their chances of actually winning a place
at the table."