Clout: GOP is fighting Pa. 3rd-party candidacies

Cheri Honkala , Green Party vice-presidential candidate.
Cheri Honkala , Green Party vice-presidential candidate. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: August 28, 2012

IT'S A SAFE bet we'll be hearing a lot of talk about freedom from the podium at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this week, assuming that Tropical Storm Isaac doesn't linger over the Tampa Bay Times Center and wash the GOP delegates out into Hillsborough Bay.

But you probably won't hear as much about what the GOP is up to right now in Philadelphia, where angry activists accuse the party of squelching the freedom to vote in Pennsylvania for third-party presidential candidates.

The Republican Party of Pennsylvania is behind aggressive challenges to petition signatures that have already caused the candidate of the Constitution Party, former Virginia U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode Jr., to abandon his effort in the state and is threatening the ballot status of Libertarian Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico.

If Johnson joins Goode in not qualifying for the state ballot, that would make the Green Party's Jill Stein the only third-party option for Pennsylvanians.

Stein's running mate is Philadelphia's own Cheri Honkala.

It's Politics 101: Goode and Johnson are former Republicans more likely to siphon votes from presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney, while the liberal Stein poses no such threat.

Carl Romanelli, Pennsylvania chairman of the Green Party, said he was surprised the Democratic Party didn't challenge Stein's right to be listed on the ballot.

Bob Small, who heads the Pennsylvania Ballot Access Coalition, blames the situation on both parties. Small belongs to the Green Party; its 2004 candidate, Ralph Nader, was successfully challenged by Democrats.

Small and other activists blame what he calls the "duopoly" of both major parties in having Pennsylvania set a higher bar for ballot access - requiring more signatures and imposing substantial penalties for losing challenges - than other states.

"Neither one of the duopoly believes strongly enough in their message to let the free market of ideas operate," Small said.

In the case of Goode, Constitution Party activists backed off for fear they'd be required to pay as much as $100,000 in legal costs to the challenging GOP.

The Libertarians submitted more than double the roughly 20,000 signatures that Pennsylvania required and is continuing to fight the challenge in state Commonwealth Court.

Last Tuesday, Johnson was forced to make an emergency trip to Pennsylvania to re-sign papers after officials ruled that his initial signature lacked a notary-like marking that the state requires.

Valerie Caras, a spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, said the nominating petitions for Goode and Johnson were "riddled with errors, duplicate signatures and blatant fraud" - raising concerns that President Obama and the Democratic Party were trying to stock the ballot with candidates "because they know the vast majority of voters are looking for a new direction."

Larry Otter, an attorney working for the GOP challenge, said the bulk of Goode's 32,600 signatures came from people in Philadelphia who were not registered to vote and therefore not eligible to sign the nominating petitions.

As for the Libertarians, he said contractors hired by Johnson's campaign to gather signatures did the work in places well-traveled by pedestrians, such as the Reading Terminal Market and SEPTA stations, rather than going door-to-door using "street lists" of registered voters.

How the states swing

An AFL-CIO poll being released Monday to kick off the Republican National Convention shows Obama with strong leads in four swing states - Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Florida - but trailing Romney by very small margins in Wisconsin and Nevada.

The poll this month of 2,306 likely voters in the Nov. 6 general election shows Obama up by 13 percentage points in Pennsylvania, 11.3 points in Ohio, 10.9 points in Michigan and 8.9 points in Florida. Romney leads Obama by 1.3 percent in Wisconsin and less than 1 percent in Nevada.

In the states where Obama leads, he gets more than 50 percent in the polling.

The poll paid special attention to the budget proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's pick for vice president, and how it plays into what voters think.

Ryan, a seven-term Republican from Wisconsin, pushed the "Path to Prosperity" to rework Medicare for people now under the age of 55, cut taxes for some people and corporations and scale back federal spending.

The poll found Ryan's plan least popular in Pennsylvania, where 64.7 percent opposed it and 30.2 percent supported it.

Fla. ex-govs on GOP

As Republicans gather in Tampa and wait out Tropical Storm Isaac, the state's last two governors used the media Sunday to critique the party on issues.

Former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist penned a column in the Tampa Bay Times, endorsing Obama for re-election while slamming the Republican Party.

Crist, who was a Republican while governor from 2007 to 2010 but now is registered to vote with no political-party affiliation, said the GOP "has pitched so far to the extreme right on issues important to women, immigrants, seniors and students that they've proven incapable of governing for the people."

Jeb Bush, Florida's governor from 1999 to 2006, took a more-restrained approach on NBC's "Meet the Press." Bush, who has endorsed Romney and will address the convention on education issues this week, said there is "too much orthodoxy" in politics for Democrats and Republicans.

Bush specifically cited his party's tough approach to immigration as a place where "a better tone" could attract voters.

"You can't ask people to join your cause and then send a signal that you're really not wanted," Bush said. "It just doesn't work."

Quotable:

" Our concern has to be with the people who are in the path of the storm." - Russ Schriefer, a strategist for Romney's campaign, when asked Sunday about the split-screen optics of the Republican National Convention on television next to a Tropical Storm Isaac coming ashore on the Gulf Coast near the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

- Staff writer Will Bunch

contributed to this report.


Contact Chris Brennan at brennac@phillynews.com or 215-854-5973. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBrennanDN. Read his blog at phillyclout.com.

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