Reform split 'will not even slow us down,' Buchanan says
LONG BEACH, California (CNN) -- A bisected Reform Party began separate conventions Thursday as delegates who bolted the group sought to block federal recognition of conservative commentator Pat Buchanan as its presidential nominee.
Buchanan is being challenged for the Reform Party's presidential nomination by John Hagelin, a former Natural Law Party candidate
Buchanan is all but certain to win the Reform Party's presidential nomination in the convention that opened in the Long Beach Convention Center. He dismissed the rival Reform convention that met around the corner at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, where about 300 delegates have rallied around physicist John Hagelin, a former Natural Law Party candidate.
"John Hagelin is a log who has been thrown on the railway tracks of a runaway express train and will not even slow us down," Buchanan, a former CNN commentator and speechwriter for presidents Nixon and Reagan, said at a Thursday news conference.
But with the future of the largest third party in U.S. politics -- and $12.6 million in federal matching funds -- at stake, delegates opposed to the former Republican candidate formally accused Buchanan's campaign Thursday of submitting bogus voting lists for the party's write-in primary.
Hagelin and Reform Party officials opposing Buchanan filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission seeking recognition as the rightful party organization, asking the commission to award the campaign money to their nominee.
"We're saying that they're violating the FEC rules and the Reform Party rules in trying to secure these election funds, and there were false voter submissions in the primary that they refused to allow to be verified, which I think speaks for itself," Hagelin lawyer Leonard Goldman said.
While referring details to his campaign staff, Buchanan denied the allegations and said the Hagelin forces were simply outmaneuvered.
"They don't have the numbers in the convention hall. They don't have the delegates," Buchanan said. "They don't have the enthusiasm. The only way they can beat us is to try to impede us, going to court to deny us the funds to run an election."
"I would urge them to give it up. We have won this fair and square."
Hagelin delegates turned away amid protest
The two wings of the party split on Tuesday, after the pro-Hagelin faction-led by the party's national secretary, Jim Mangia, and former national chairman and Perot lieutenant Russ Verney quit a fractious meeting of the party's national committee. The group named Mangia its new national chairman.
Hagelin, a nuclear physicist, addresses the party's national convention Thursday
Mangia led a group of Hagelin delegates to a convention center ballroom Thursday in protest and was turned away. No talks were in progress Thursday to reconcile the two factions, Verney said.
"I don't know whether there will be any at some point in the future, but I'm not optimistic," he said. Perot himself has taken no public stand on the troubles of the organization he founded.
Meanwhile, the pro-Buchanan wing of the Reform Party sought to hold as normal a convention as possible Thursday, and Buchanan said the walkout does not diminish what he considered his imminent victory.
Pat Choate -- who ran as Perot's running mate in 1996 and welcomed Buchanan into the Reform fold with open arms last year -- roundly endorsed his candidacy Thursday night. "The question is who is best equipped to lead us into the 2000 election and help build the party. I say that person is Patrick Buchanan," Choate told the convention.
Gerry Moan, the acting party chairman and chief spokesman for the Buchanan camp, presiding over a low-key opening on the day's activities. "I don't have a gavel," he said. "I call the 2000 nominating convention of the Reform Party to order."
Buchanan said the party was "in utter disrepair" when he left the GOP in October, and was on ballots in only 20 states. He said his supporters have worked "heart and soul" to get on the ballot in nearly all of them.
"Everywhere we have gone, we have tried to build something new," Buchanan said. "If this party is on the ballot in all 50 states, ask Mr. Hagelin where he got it on the ballot. Ask Mr. Verney how many signatures he collected."
Verney said the party's rules require any potential nominees to seek ballot access on their own: "There were no heroics there."
Buchanan pointed to the party's credentials committee recommendation to seat opposing delegations from Washington and New York as evidence that the process in the original hall was fair. But within hours, the full convention replaced the New York delegates with others loyal to Buchanan.
Buchanan reaffirms social, moral positions
The disputes began last year, when Buchanan quit the Republican Party after his third presidential bid faltered early. Denouncing the two major parties as "two wings of the same bird of prey," he announced he would seek the presidency under the Reform standard. Reform's highest-ranking elected official, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, quit in protest.
The party platform, heavily influenced by Perot's 1992 and 1996 runs for president, is fiscally conservative and opposed to expanding free trade but avoids stands on hot-button social issues such as abortion and gay rights.
While Buchanan and Perot were allied in opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement and normalizing trade with China, many of Perot's old supporters are angered that Buchanan has continued to stress those issues while seeking the Reform nomination.
Buchanan attempted to ease those strains Thursday by releasing what he called "a statement of personal belief" that reaffirms his positions on social issues without attempting to change the platform.
"Secondarily of course, we issued it to contradict any of those who have said that I personally have abandoned the issue of life, of cultural and personal moral issues that I believe are at the heart of our campaign," he said.
The statement criticizes "rampant homosexuality, a sign of cultural decadence and moral decline from Rome to Weimar" and condemns first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton for appearing in a New York gay pride parade. It blasts late-term abortions, a popular culture "as polluted as Love Canal" and the removal of organized prayer from public schools.
For many of the Hagelin delegates, however, it was not Buchanan's position on social issues that drove them away as much as his swift drive to take control of the party.
"There are a lot of people here who support him on many of the issues," said Arizona delegate Scott Malcomson. "The problem is, he has not supported the platform, he has been extremely underhanded in how he has gone about getting his nomination … He probably would have won if he'd been aboveboard."