One day after the old guard of the Reform Party once led by Ross Perot moved to split in two, the fractured groups nominated two presidential candidates in separate votes Friday. Though the results of the party's mail-in primary showed Pat Buchanan winning the nomination, both camps moved to disqualify that vote.
As the mail-in vote was announced in a state-by-state roll call at the anti-Buchanan convention led by supporters of physicist John Hagelin, the energy in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center quickly deflated. Though Jim Mangia, the newly appointed chairman of the anti-Buchanan faction of the Reform Party, made clear that Buchanan was disqualified before the ballots were announced, the crowd held out hope for the slim possibility that Hagelin might win the primary vote.
You could almost hear the spite in Connecticut delegate and former national party press secretary Donna Donovan as she stepped up to the microphone and announced "321 votes for John Hagelin, 557 for Pat Buchanan." In all, Hagelin carried only three states: Hawaii, Colorado and North Carolina.
Hagelin spokesman Robert Roth quickly called the results "meaningless" and alleged that the tally had been rigged with ballots from scores of past Buchanan supporters who were not even eligible to participate in the nominating vote. Hagelin supporters also claimed that they did not receive ballots, even though they had requested them. Mangia called the vote "co-opted and perverted."
That was a marked change from the tone sounded earlier in the day by the Hagelin hordes, who wrapped themselves in lofty principles of democracy, fairness and openness. "The difference between this convention and the Buchanan convention is we're not saying we're going to throw the vote out," Mangia said Friday morning. But just before the tally was announced, Mangia presided over a motion that disqualified Buchanan from the tally, making Hagelin's nomination, and a court battle over the $12.6 million in public funds due to the party, a foregone conclusion.
But the Buchanan foes saw no contradiction in their 180-degree turn.
"The margin of victory of Pat Buchanan in this tally is directly related to the fraudulent submission of 500,000 ballots in the Reform Party primary," Mangia said. "This is the party of integrity. We knew the results would be something similar to this. But we decided as a body to have these figures shown."
After accepting his shadow nomination, Hagelin told supporters, "I accept with humility and with pride the mantle of H. Ross Perot."
Earlier in the day, in an anticipated move, the convention convened by Buchanan supporters at the Long Beach Convention Center decided to rescind the primary altogether rather than risk a possible Hagelin upset on their convention floor. The results of that vote were held in a sealed envelope until Friday afternoon. For weeks, the Buchanan forces have cast doubts on the voting process, claiming many voters did not receive ballots, while other voters received multiple ballots.
Though the final results showed Buchanan to be the clear winner of the popular vote, the anti-Buchanan convention went about nominating Hagelin anyway. Meanwhile Pat Buchanan picked up what he claims is the real Reform Party nomination around the corner, where delegates nominated the former Republican as their presidential candidate in a floor vote.
"If the convention decides to do that, it is their right," Buchanan said Thursday when asked about the possibility of the anti-Buchanan faction of the party nullifying the primary vote. He was not immediately available for comment Friday.
Michael Ferris, chairman of the Reform Party's presidential nominating committee, admitted that the primary process was "imperfect," but added, "It will not damage the integrity of the process." Ferris said he was distraught to learn that the Buchanan faction's convention had decided to forego the primary vote. "It's sad, certainly, that a handful of delegates tried to worm their way and quash a popular vote," said Ferris.
In the end, the dueling Reform Party conventions proceeded as expected Friday -- one nominating Pat Buchanan, the other John Hagelin -- as the two sides headed toward a showdown before the Federal Election Commission.
FEC spokesman Ian Stirton said that $12.6 million in federal funds awaits the person who submits a formal certificate of nomination from the Reform Party. Both Buchanan and Hagelin are expected to submit such certificates sometime this weekend. The FEC then has 10 days to determine which certificate is legitimate. After the ruling, the loser has 15 days to file an appeal.
"This was never intended to be a quick process," Stirton said, adding that he did not know if the FEC's commissioners would attempt to expedite the decision-making process because of the rapid approach of the November elections.
There has been so much infighting at this gathering that it's hard to tell this is about politics anymore. This Reform Party Convention, as much as the Democratic or Republican conventions, has blurred the lines of politics and entertainment -- especially if your idea of entertainment is watching a good bout of mud wrestling, with a $12.6 million purse.
This has been a media-driven event from the start, and nobody understands that better than former television personality Pat Buchanan. So to kick down a slab of raw meat to the insatiable media beast in Long Beach, Buchanan introduced his running mate today -- Los Angeles anti-immigration activist Ezola Foster. Foster, a former public school teacher from Los Angeles is African-American, making her, in Buchanan's words, "the first black lady to run on a major party ticket." She supported Buchanan in 1996, and played a prominent role in passing California's Proposition 187, a ballot measure that sought to eliminate social benefits to illegal immigrants. But anyone who thinks Foster is not on the ticket primarily because she's a black woman is crazy enough to be ... a member of the Reform Party.
Foster has never held public office, but ran against Rep. Maxine Waters twice in the 1980s. She was described by Buchanan as a "polemicist and controversialist."
With the selection of Foster, Buchanan challenged critics who have often referred to him as racist, saying Foster would "contradict all the myths that have surrounded this party."
Inside the Buchanan convention hall, members were thrilled about the selection of Foster. "She's a patriot of the first order," said Evelyn Miller, a member of the anti-immigration group Save Our State. "I'd vote for her for anything." Miller said she and Foster have worked together for years on immigration issues, and blame illegal immigration for everything from high electricity bills to traffic jams and public healthcare costs. "Illegal aliens have absolutely ruined L.A. Unified" School District," she said.
In 1998, Foster told the San Diego Union Tribune that "public education is overrun with homosexuals, abortion counselors and mind-control freaks."
Today, she affirmed her support for restricting immigration, the right to fly the Confederate flag and "protecting America's sovereignty" by rescinding trade deals and diminishing the power of the United Nations.
Hagelin, meanwhile, said he would announce his vice presidential nominee Saturday. But most believe he will tap Robert Bowman, a Florida Reformer who himself sought the party's nomination this year.
At least one delegate inside the Buchanan convention seemed unsatisfied with the choices at hand. As media and delegates filed in through the hordes of metal detectors and security guards, he sat quietly in a corner of the room holding a sign which read: "Nominate Jimmy Carter to unite Reform Party."