On Tues., March 7, Aaron Dixon announced his candidacy for the Green Party nomination for this year's campaign for Maria Cantwell's seat in the U.S. Senate.
For Greens, this campaign should be a no-brainer. Dixon, 57, has been a respected community activist and leader in Seattle's African-American community for 40 years. Most progressives have become disgusted with Cantwell's centrist tendencies, particularly her vote against the filibuster of Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination, her support of free trade and the Patriot Act, and especially her unwavering cheerleading for Bush's Iraq invasion. Meanwhile, Cantwell has a 50 percent statewide approval rating, a double-digit lead over her relatively unknown Republican challenger in the respected Elway poll, and all the advantages of incumbency in a year when Bush's problems are expected to hinder Republican campaigns.
A lot can change between when a campaign needs to be launched, in March, and when voters make decisions in November. But if Greens can't launch a campaign under these circumstances, when can they run?
Dixon is unknown outside Seattle, and the Greens have not only never run a serious statewide campaign, but they lack infrastructure and history in most of the state's counties. Given that, Dixon will need to (and wants to) draw votes from disaffected progressive Democrats, who are legion. They should be his natural constituency.
So far, the reaction to Dixon's campaign among many progressive Democratic activists has been negative. In Seattle, Dixon's home base, progressive bloggers mostly ignored or excoriated his campaign. Not one speaker on a panel of six of the most prominent local progressive bloggers, including myself, at last week's "Podcasting Liberally" (www.podcastingliberally.com) defended Dixon's campaign. Most, while professing sympathy for green ideals, savaged it and the Greens. What's wrong?
"Aaron Dixon started out the campaign with two lies," says David Goldstein of HorsesAss.org, Seattle's best-known progressive blogger and a fierce critic of Dixon. "The first one being, 'I can win'; the second one being, 'There's no difference between Republicans and Democrats.'" Goldstein also points not only to the infamous "spoiler" factor but to the impact of Dixon's presence on the ballot if the race between Cantwell and Republican challenger Mike McGavick changes from a comfortable Democratic win to a closer race of, say, 5 percent.
The loser, Goldstein says, will be Darcy Burner, whose challenge of U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert in the 8th Congressional District east of Lake Washington is the state's second-biggest race this year. If Cantwell's race is close, the theory goes, it costs Burner both campaign money and media exposure that will flow to the Senate race instead. That, Goldstein says, would hurt the chance to elect a progressive to Congress in a winnable race, all for Dixon's quixotic bid.
Dixon doesn't buy any of it. "I've been getting an overwhelming response," he says, "even from progressive Democrats, particularly from young people. They've been looking for something that they could grab hold of and be part of, that has some real significant meaning. And for that reason alone, I think it's worth it."
Dixon says he can win, but acknowledges he's starting from scratch. He wants to build a permanent, statewide political network from the campaign. "The Green Party is only a shell of a vehicle. They do have a political party, but this is not about the Green Party. This is about all the people fed up with the current political system. If we do get the grassroot apparatus we want, it's not necessarily going to be called the Green Party."
There's still bitterness among some progressive Democrats over Ralph Nader's Green Party run in 2000, which they believe, rightly or wrongly, put George Bush in the White House. And Nader's candidacy, while mobilizing tremendous numbers of people, did almost nothing in the end to build infrastructure for future local campaigns. Can Aaron Dixon do any better?
As for his impact on the Democrats, Dixon concedes that there are important differences between Cantwell and McGavick, but he says, "It doesn't matter enough. Everybody's well aware that the Democratic Party has been moving toward the center. The Democrats have not shown any backbone when it comes to challenging George Bush over the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the free-trade agreements, and now possibly going into Iran. We as American people are really starting to question the whole Democratic Party, not just Maria Cantwell. If there are progressive Democrats who are mad or upset with me, they need to talk with Maria. She needs to pay closer attention to what the people are saying. If she was addressing those issues, there would be no need for me to be involved in this race."
In the end, some of Cantwell's biggest votes have been both unconscionable and unrepresentative of her state. And Dixon and the Greens have every right to put forward a solid candidate that not only better reflects their beliefs, but will hopefully help build what Dixon calls "an apparatus that can get somebody elected to city council, or get somebody elected for mayor."
Whether he'll get many votes this year is another question.