Roy Moore’s Extreme Political Party Hopes to Swing the Presidential Election
Can the nation's most extreme political party swing the presidential election?
By Bob Moser
In Pennsylvania, which Al Gore narrowly carried in 2000, the Constitutionalists have just the kind of secret weapon most third parties can only fantasize about: a proven vote-getter on the ballot. In 1994 and 1998 campaigns for lieutenant governor, Lancaster attorney Jim Clymer, now the party's national chairman, siphoned away enough Republican votes to rack up 13% and 10%, respectively.
Now Clymer, described by one longtime observer as a "low-key rabble-rouser," is back, running for U.S. Senate — and the timing could not be more propitious. Nowhere in the country are conservatives more eager to send a harsh message to President Bush and the Republican establishment.
Their frustration stems from this spring's Republican primary. It looked like moderate Sen. Arlen Specter — despised by right-wingers as the GOP's most powerful supporter of abortion rights — was going to lose Pennsylvania's Republican primary to true-blue conservative Pat Toomey.
Quaker State conservatives were just starting to plan their victory parties when Bush and the state's other senator, Rick Santorum, launched an aggressive last-minute push to keep Specter in Washington. It worked, just barely. But as soon as Specter eked out a 16,000-vote victory, Clymer announced that he would mount his own stop-Specter campaign.
His effort was all the buzz at the Constitution Party convention, with Howard Phillips calling it "the race where we have a real chance to get national attention." Proving the point, former GOP Congressman Bob Barr, famous for his instrumental role in President Bill Clinton's impeachment, flew to Valley Forge to speak at a fundraising luncheon for Clymer.
Hardline conservatives are energized about Specter's ouster because he's in line to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee if re-elected — putting him in position to block judicial nominees who want to outlaw abortion.
Clymer believes he can create a "real three-way race" with Specter and Democratic nominee Joe Hoeffel. The anti-Specter, anti-Bush backlash isn't the only factor in his favor. A whopping 72% of Pennsylvanians say they're open to third-party voting. The Constitution Party has its strongest base and best organization in the Quaker State.
Still, most pundits agree with Congressional Quarterly's assessment that Clymer is most likely to be "the skunk at the garden party," unable to win but perfectly able to spoil Specter's re-election bid.
Even if that's the best Clymer can do, playing the spoiler in a critical Senate race would work wonders for the Constitution Party's national profile — and it just might doom Bush's chances of carrying the nation's second-largest toss-up state as well. "If the Constitution Party had a high-profile presidential candidate, it would probably be a cinch," says a reporter who's covered Pennsylvania politics for years. "But even if only half of Clymer's votes carry over to Peroutka, Bush could still be toast."
Shadows Over the Sunshine State
In Florida, the toss-up state to end all toss-up states, the Constitution Party's chances to derail President Bush rest on a very different set of shoulders — those of vice-presidential nominee Chuck Baldwin, a gun-loving evangelist who's mounting his first political campaign.
Even those who nominated Baldwin in Valley Forge had trouble pinpointing his qualifications for the nation's second-highest office. "All of his children are Christians," offered Thom Holmes of Oklahoma. "He's a strong Americanist and a constitutionalist through and through," said Florida's Jack McLain. "He's my kind of guy," said presidential nominee Michael Peroutka.
In his acceptance speech, Baldwin admitted that when Peroutka invited him to join the ticket, "I thought it was a joke."
But Baldwin's political connections — including Roy Moore, Jerry Falwell, Pat Buchanan, Ezola Foster and former Congressman Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" — are no laughing matter.
Nor is his potential to woo Bush voters on the Florida panhandle, which has one of the nation's largest concentrations of fundamentalist Christians. Baldwin is well known there as the man who started Crossroad Baptist Church from scratch and turned it into an evangelical powerhouse, complete with a mock graveyard honoring aborted fetuses.
Though one letter-writer to the Pensacola News-Journal said that Baldwin "could not even win as dog-catcher in Escambia County," those who've battled Baldwin on abortion and public-school curriculum controversies don't underestimate him.
"I admire his unstoppable energy, the fire he has in him," says Bill Caplinger of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "He's incredibly ambitious, and a good speaker. He'll definitely get some votes."
It will take plenty of fire and energy to make a Nader-sized dent in Florida this fall. (The consumer advocate tallied 98,000 votes there in 2000.) But if the margin is anywhere near as close as last time, when Bush won Florida's disputed contest by just 537 votes, Baldwin's support might be enough to tip the precarious balance.
Last time around, every political analyst in America pointed out that Nader's voters robbed Gore of a clear win in the Sunshine State. Nobody seemed to notice that nearly 40,000 conservatives in the state had voted for third-party candidates rather than Bush.
Like most Constitution Partiers, Baldwin was once a staunch Republican. But his quirky ideology is a perfect match for the party of God and guns. In addition to his fundamentalist beliefs, Baldwin was identified in a 1995 newspaper article as an active member of the Escambia County Militia. ("Jesus never preached disarmament," he explained.)
Baldwin is well equipped to make his political conversion story sing on the campaign trail — and on his radio show. By the end of his acceptance speech in Valley Forge, the Pensacola pastor had transformed the somber convention into a fair approximation of a tent revival. Mixing piety and militance, Baldwin not only invoked the Biblical tale of David and Goliath, but also a couple of more secular battles.
"Tell those men at Bunker Hill, 'You cannot win!'" he thundered. "Tell those men at the Alamo, 'You cannot win!'" His new congregation whooped, cheered, Rebel-yelled and shouted amen.
Skillfully bringing it down a notch, Baldwin ended with an exhortation from the New Testament that aptly summarized the rationale for his unlikely campaign: "We can do all things through Christ, who strengthens us."