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USA Today
July 7, 2000

Anti-Buchanan effort makes party's primary competitive

By Tom Squitieri, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - The five-week fight for the Reform Party's presidential nomination appears likely to be decided in about a dozen states where battling Reform factions are most active.

An analysis of the 1996 Reform primary and interviews with state party leaders show the race between conservative commentator Pat Buchanan and physicist John Hagelin is more competitive than originally anticipated by political oddsmakers, who assumed Buchanan's national reputation would give him an edge.

Pivotal states in the Reform Party struggle
Here are the battleground states for the Reform Party’s five-week presidential primary, which is conducted by mail and e-mail, with how they voted in the 1996 primary and their outlook for the Pat Buchanan-John Hagelin contest. They are in order of total votes cast in 1996.

State Ross
2000 outlook
California 11,174 6,161 Buchanan has slight edge in fractured state
Florida 2,981 929 Buchanan heavily favored
Texas 1,877 705 Shootout between Perot loyalists and Buchanan brigades
Oklahoma 1,237 521 Strong Buchanan state; outgoing Rep. Tom Coburn is atop Buchanan's VP list
Ohio 1,059 366 Buchanan favored
Maine 915 464 Buchanan holds solid lead
New York 794 355 Tossup
Indiana 773 277 Hagelin building lead
Pennsylvania 752 308 Hagelin breakthrough possible
Michigan 726 296 Buchanan still favored
Kansas 678 374 Conservatives like Buchanan, but Hagelin has active grass-roots organization
Colorado 318 1,422 Hagelin strength growing

Source: Ballot Access News, state party officials

The nominee will be chosen in a national primary, which started Wednesday and ends Aug. 9. More than 1 million ballots are being mailed to Reform Party members and other registered voters. Based on reports from rank-and-file activists, party leaders expect from 100,000-250,000 ballots to be returned. The winner will be announced at the party's Aug. 10-13 convention in Long Beach, Calif.

Buchanan has a strong core of conservative supporters developed from his years as a TV commentator and Republican presidential candidate. But that strength is being challenged in some key states by factions of Reform Party activists who are loyal to party founder Ross Perot and oppose Buchanan's positions on social issues like abortion that the party has avoided. Those people back Hagelin in an "anyone-but-Buchanan" effort.

"He (Buchanan) never saw this coming," Hagelin said. "He thought he would be the only one on the primary ballot." Hagelin was the 1992 and 1996 nominee of the Natural Law Party and will be its nominee again this year.

Ballots are being sent to all registered Reform Party members, as well as voters who signed petitions this year to get the party on state ballots and any registered voter who requested one.

About 250,000 of the eligible primary voters live in California and New York, the biggest prizes. Hagelin says he will campaign only in those states until voting ends. But Reform Party leaders say other states crucial to determining the nominee are Florida, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Ohio, Maine, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kansas....

Buchanan's conservative view of social issues, on which the Reform Party is silent, alienated some members of the party's old guard. They began to shift their support to Hagelin in late June after Perot closed the door on a third candidacy.

While neutral Reform officials give Buchanan the lead for the nomination, several factors have made the contest competitive:

  • Hagelin has won the support of Lenora Fulani, whose troops have taken control of the New York state Reform organization. Her backing has altered the dynamics of that state to boost Hagelin. She had backed Buchanan until early June, when she said he was shifting the party too far to the right.
  • Hagelin has gotten the support of Jim Mangia, the national secretary and a leader in the California Reform Party. Mangia and his faction will help Hagelin be competitive in that state, which has the largest base of Reform voters....

Some neutral party leaders call the race volatile. Ohio party chairman Frank Reed says it looks like Buchanan and Hagelin each have a quarter of the vote, with the rest undecided. "A lot of voters who are middle, centrist-type people might not want to vote for a conservative position," Reed says.

Jim Brown, vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Reform Party, says there is "strong competition" in his state and many voters are undecided. "It should be very interesting," he says.

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