Minor party candidates feel pressure in election
Oregon Right to Life supports Goli Ameri - pressures Constitution Party member to drop out of race.
BEAVERTON VALLEY TIMES
Minor party candidates feel pressure in election
Kevin Harden - 09/09/04
Many in Washington County say they have been asked to withdraw from races
Several Washington County minor party candidates on the November ballot are being pressured to drop out of some hotly contested races.
Officials with the Libertarian and Constitution parties say a handful of their candidates have been approached in the past few weeks by conservative groups and Republicans asking them to quit races so they wouldn't undermine other candidates' support.
In some cases, minor party candidates have dropped out of campaigns, sometimes for reasons unrelated to the pressure. In others, they have defiantly stayed on, pledging to hammer home their issues regardless of the impact on other conservatives.
"It has been particularly intense this year," said Richard P. Burke, executive director of the Libertarian Party of Oregon, whose headquarters is in downtown Beaverton.
"The Libertarian Party in this state has grown to the point where it is now politically relevant. People are concerned about our impact on policy. They're concerned about our impact on campaigns."
"We have been approached mainly by Republicans who are concerned that our candidates will harm their chances to win," said Bob Ekstrom of Scappoose, chairman of the Constitution Party of Oregon.
"We are not going to play 'backup' to the GOP. They see us in that role. We instead intend to let the chips fall where they may."
The Oregon Republican Party denied pressuring candidates to withdraw from races. The party hasn't been part of any effort to force anyone off the ballot, said Dawn Phillips of Hillsboro, the party's spokeswoman.
"The Oregon Republican Party would never engage in that kind of activity," Phillips said.
There are six political parties with candidates on the November general election ballot. Besides Republicans and Democrats, there are candidates from the Pacific Green Party, the Constitution Party, the Libertarian Party and the Socialist Party.
Libertarian and Constitution party candidates tend to be conservative and offer alternatives to voters unhappy with traditional political parties. There are about 15,200 people registered to vote as Libertarians, and about 2,500 people registered as Constitution Party members.
The Pacific Green Party has about 13,500 registered voters.
Constitution Party candidates are much more conservative on fiscal and social issues than their Republican counterparts, particularly on abortion or taxation.
Their party is made up of mostly disenchanted Republicans who think the GOP has gone soft on social and economic issues.
The tiny party is fielding several candidates for state, federal and local offices this fall. It even has a presidential candidate in the race, Maryland lawyer Michael A. Peroutka.
Locally, a Constitution Party candidate is one of five people on the ballot in Tigard's House District 35, an open seat once held by Rep. Max Williams, who resigned the post to became head of the state corrections department.
Libertarians usually attract voters from the right by eschewing tax increases and being more fiscally conservative than Republicans.
This election, there are nearly three dozen Libertarian candidates seeking local, federal and state offices. In Washington County, Libertarians are on the ballot in six state House races and one state Senate contest.
The party is running a candidate against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. It also has fielded statewide candidates for secretary of state, treasurer and attorney general.
"It's by far the largest slate we've ever fielded," Burke said.
Democrats and Republicans expect most of the legislative races to be close, sometimes because minor party candidates have earned spots on the ballot.
In at least three cases, Libertarian and Constitution party candidates in Washington County have been asked, albeit quietly and politely, to withdraw from their races.
Burke said Libertarian Cody Mattern of Tigard was asked to withdraw in the House District 35 race. Richard Morley of Tigard, a Libertarian running for secretary of state, also was pressured to get out of the race, Burke said.
Libertarian Donald G. Smith Jr. of Northeast Portland has received calls to drop out of the attorney general's contest, Burke said.
"There have been a lot of calls coming into our office about this," he said. "I've fielded some of them myself. These people are telling us, 'I can't win with a Libertarian in the race.' "
In late August, Libertarian Richard Whitehead of Aloha dropped out of the 1st Congressional District race, saying he could not run an adequate campaign for the seat. His decision wasn't the result of political pressure, Burke said.
Libertarian Tom Love also dropped out of the state Senate District 14 race because he was acquainted with Republican challenger Jay Omdahl of Beaverton, who is trying to unseat Sen. Ryan Deckert, a Beaverton Democrat.
Constitution Party candidate Bonnie Jean Mabon of Brooks dropped out of her race for secretary of state in late August, endorsing Republican Betsy Close in her campaign to unseat incumbent Democrat Bill Bradbury.
Ekstrom agreed with that decision, saying Close's legislative record reflected the same principles and issues held by the Constitution Party.
A high-profile example is the effort to block independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader from a spot in November's election.
Many Democrats blame Nader for Al Gore's narrow defeat four years ago.
Nader supporters are fighting Bradbury's recent decision that they did not get enough petition signatures to put Nader's name on the Oregon ballot.
One attempt at political pressure backfired, however, as the Constitution Party candidate for the 1st Congressional District seat said he wouldn't withdraw from that race and would press Bull Mountain Republican Goli Ameri on the issue of abortion.
Ameri is challenging U.S. Rep. David Wu, a Hillsdale Democrat.
Dean Wolf of Aloha said the head of Oregon's Right To Life asked him several weeks ago to drop out of the race, something he and party officials refused to do.
"What was stunning there was the request by the leader of the state's highest-profile pro-life group asking the only pro-life candidate in the race to drop out so they could help an advocate of abortion," Ekstrom said.
Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right To Life in Salem, said she approached Wolf with the request weeks before his campaign got started.
After a "five-minute conversation" about the race, Atteberry said she let the issue rest.
"It was one conversation, that's all," she said. "He didn't seem too interested, so we just let it go."
Today, Atteberry has difficulty recalling the Constitution Party candidate's name.
The Ameri-Wu race is expected to be tight, and anything drawing away conservative votes could hurt Ameri's chances.
A new poll by Riley Research Associates of Portland shows Wu with a substantial lead, 58 percent to 24 percent. About 18 percent of the district's voters are undecided, according to the Sept. 3 report.
Atteberry said the Oregon Right To Life Candidate political action committee had not endorsed Ameri, but was "recommending" her to its members.
That recommendation came with a "token" donation, something much less than the PAC would give to pro-life candidates endorsed by Right To Life, Atteberry said. She declined to say how much the group gave Ameri.
Wolf, however, said he took Atteberry's request in stride and promised to keep plugging away at Ameri's apparent pro-choice stand.
"This party is in its infancy," said Wolf, an electrician and member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 48. "We don't represent that big a threat yet. We were encouraged that we did get the pressure. At least we showed up on their radar screen."
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