Is Bernie Sanders’ Best Option to Run for President As a Green?

December 29, 2014
by Steven Rosenfeld

Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s independent U.S. senator, last week told a home state reporter that he will decide by March if he will run for president as an independent or a Democrat. But there’s a third major option Sanders hasn’t mentioned: running as a Green.

“A letter was sent to Bernie Sanders about a year ago: a combination of a query—are you interested—along with some instructions about how to approach the Green Party,” said Scott McLarty, the party’s national media coordinator. “We never heard back.”

“I know there are members of the party who would welcome him if he would seek the Green Party nomination,” said Brian Bittner, their Washington office manager, when asked about the possibility earlier this week.

Sanders’ campaign committee, at, did not respond to a request to comment.

Instead, Sanders seems intent on running as either a Democrat or an independent. Last week, David Gram, a longtime Vermont Associated Press reporter, wrote that Sanders told him that he “wouldn’t run just to nudge the debate to the left.” Sanders said, “I don’t want to do it unless I can do it well… I don’t want to do it unless we can win.”

Yet running as a Green—first in the primary and possibly as the nominee—is not so far-fetched, said Richard Winger, a longtime supporter of third-party movements and editor of Ballot Access News. Unlike running as an independent, where you have to build an effort state-by-state, the Greens now qualify to be on the ballot in 20 states including California, Florida, New York, Ohio and Texas, Winger said. Maryland will be the next state, party officials said, saying that figure will reach 35 states by 2016.

Perhaps more important, Sanders, who isn’t wealthy, could get federal matching funds as a candidate in a primary—such as the Green Party, Winger explained, which he would not receive if he ran as an independent outside a party.

In terms of carrying a message and the politics, there are other important—and dicey—considerations when it comes to running as a Democrat, independent, or a Green. The most obvious question concerns Sanders’ reception as a Democratic candidate in that party, which is not the same as voting along side Democrats in the U.S. Senate.

Gram’s quoted Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic National Committeewoman from New Hampshire and a Hillary Clinton backer, who said, “I don’t think you’ll find the socialist wing of the Democratic Party is that big, contrary to what Republicans might think.”

That comment raises some obvious issues: can Sanders really compete with Clinton in a Democratic primary? As a Democratic candidate, Sanders would share the stage with Clinton and others, at least in the early phase of the contest. But if he doesn’t win, he would be exiled by summer 2016, after the primaries end and the Democrats coalesced behind their ticket.

In contrast, if Sanders sought the Green Party’s nomination in the primaries and won, he would share some of spotlight with the Democratic and Republican nominees in the fall. But that, too, is dicey. Recall how Ralph Nader lost his fight to be a part of presidential debates in 2000. There also is the spectre, whether he would deserve it or not, of being called a spoiler—like Nader—if the race came down to the wire in a single state.

Last winter, Scott McLarty wrote a long article exploring the prospect of Sanders as the Green nominee. First, he dismissed the impact of running as an independent, saying, “Here’s the problem with independent campaigns: they leave no legacy. An independent might call public attention to a few big issues ignored by the D and R candidates, but there exists no institutional means to carry the independent’s ideas forward after Election Day.”

Then, he said it was a fantasy that progressives can steer the Democratic Party to the left. “Just ask Dennis Kucinich. Or Rev. Jesse Jackson,” he wrote. “Their campaigns serve mainly to keep progressives within the Democratic fold during the pre-primary period, ensuring that most of the latter will vote for the party’s corporate-money nominee in the general election.”

Those considerations present Sanders with an obvious choice that neither he—nor mainstream reporters like the AP’s Gram want to acknowledge, McLarty said. “They seem to go out of their way to ignore a third option staring them in the face: running Green.”

“It’s very possible that Sen. Sanders would win the Green nomination if he competed for it,” he wrote. “A quick comparison of Sen. Sanders’ positions with the Green Party’s platform and principles shows a close match.”

There are two main objections to running as a Green, McLarty said, “(1) he’d siphon votes away from the Democrat, and (2) he’d have no chance of winning the White House, so why bother running?”

McClarty said that Greens “face this [why bother] question all the time.” He replied that “there are more ways to win than qualifying for the front-door key to the White House,” such as raising the profile of issues ignored by mainstream parties, helping to raise the profile of local Green Party candidates, and really contributing to building a political movement at the grassroots.

“If you want a revolution, you have to do something revolutionary,” he said. “The political revolution that Sen. Sanders advocates requires a sustained movement that’s represented by a party in the electoral arena. The party must be permanent, serious about electoral participation, independent of the bipartisan establishment, and beyond the reach of corporate PACs, lobbyists, and campaign checks. One party fits that description.”

Is Sanders’ best scenario for running in 2016 as a Green—not as a Democrat nor an independent? Time will tell, but it’s a real option and not to be dismissed.