For most of America, November's electoral spoils can easily be divided into two crops: golden apples for the Democrats and bitter lemons for the Republicans.
But San Diego County isn't most of America. Here, the political fruit was for most an exotic berry of the kind that confounds the taste buds and proves more than a little difficult to digest. For Democrats, the flavor was sweet, but with an unpleasant aftertaste: Yes, the county's electorate voted blue for the first time in 16 years, but then approved Proposition 8 by an unsettling margin. For Republicans, it was all things rank and foul until the sweet tang of Prop. 8 settled in—and weren't the seeds of that strange fruit planted in San Diego, after all?
But while Nov. 4 yielded a mixed bag for the GOP and the Dems, it provided nothing but a great big sack of rotten potatoes for just about every other political persuasion. Here, as elsewhere in the nation, adherents of the boutique parties—the Libertarian, American Independent, Peace and Freedom and Green parties—saw their candidates routed on nearly every front. And no party performed so poorly in San Diego County as the Greens.
Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney got just 2,432 votes in the county, less than a third of that received by the third top presidential vote-getter, Ralph Nader, and less than half of that by Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. Of the six candidates who received enough votes to be listed by the county Registrar of Voters, McKinney came in dead last.
To put this in perspective, consider that the Greens' guy for the Encinitas City Council, Bob Nanninga, also went down in flames. But he received nearly three times as many votes as McKinney's county tally—and still came in sixth out of 10 candidates running.
“Statistically, it wasn't a very good election across the board for the Green Party,” says Matthew Junker, organizer and former treasurer of the Greens of San Diego County. “On the national level, everyone in the party was really excited about McKinney. She'd been a congresswoman and had the power to extend some influence. Unfortunately, Obama jumped in with his message of change and hope, and took that message away from McKinney.”
But more than Obama's message of change and hope, says Junker, what really killed McKinney was Nader. Nader, who started his run saying he was independent of any party, wound up being listed on ballots as either the Independent-Ecology Party, Peace and Freedom Party or Natural Law Party candidate—depending on where you voted. In other words, he was a Green-vote-sucking machine (but still received only 8,546 votes in the county).
“That had a devastating effect on what could have been a very successful vote for McKinney's campaign,” Junker says. “The defense I give to Nader is that nobody owns anybody's vote, and his decision not to get behind McKinney was his to make. Others in the party say he has a huge ego and a problem with giving the spotlight to someone else.”