Byline: Stephen Dinan
The challenge for Reform Party leaders as they convene in Nashville, Tenn., today is how to revamp and revive a party that has gone from force to farce.
Since 1992, when party founder and presidential candidate Ross Perot received 19 percent of the vote and helped set the post-election agenda for both parties, the party has fallen to 8 percent of the vote for Mr. Perot in 1996 and to less than 1 percent for candidate Patrick J. Buchanan last year.
Last year's election performance ended a fractious year for the party. The February 2000 meeting in Nashville featured a full-blown fistfight in the hallways between two factions of the party. That led to two separate nominating conventions that produced two nominees, Mr. Buchanan and John Hagelin, each of whom claimed to be the party's nominee and wanted the $12.6 million in federal elections money.
The party also lost two of its biggest names. Mr. Perot has avoided party events recently, and Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who used to be the party's highest-ranking office holder, has disavowed his affiliation with the party.
"I think the Reform Party is, to all intents and purposes, dead as a vehicle for reform," said David Gillespie, a professor at Presbyterian College in South Carolina who studies third parties.
By failing to garner at least 5 percent of the vote, Mr. Buchanan, a Reagan White House official who bolted the Republican Party, has cost the party any federal financial support before the 2004 election. The party's treasury has about $2,000, said Gerald Moan, the party's current chairman, who is running for re-election.
But Mr. Moan and other party leaders say they can come back.
"The Reform Party indeed has seen some difficult times," says Daniel Jay Charles, the convention committee chairman who is seeking the national chairmanship this year. "We had really disappointing results from last year's election from the presidential level. But what we saw at the local level was encouraging. We had some very good showings in a number of local races."