LONG BEACH — Pat Buchanan put a personal stamp on his share of the Reform Party on Saturday night, calling it a shelter for "homeless conservatives" who will fight world government abroad and big government at home.
The speech served as a symbolic passing of the torch from the plain-talking, deficit-cutting Ross Perot, who has left the remnants of the party he founded to squabble and break apart in his absence.
"At long last, we have a home of our own," Buchanan said, accepting his nomination even as experts say the Reform Party house is tumbling down.
Shaping a party in his image, Buchanan made 10 references to God, blasted Republicans for failing to emphasize abortion at their convention, unabashedly vowed to impose an anti-abortion litmus test for his judicial nominees and called for an end to the "new world order" to protect U.S. sovereignty.
Experts, meanwhile, predicted that the national populist movement launched eight years ago — now spread between two factions and two presidential candidates — will have a minimal effect on the November election.
"I think Buchanan has won very little," said Cal Jillson, head of the political science department at Southern Methodist University.
"The party has been in a process of disintegration for the past year or more. This convention in California, and the split that has occurred, is just a continuation of that." He said Buchanan will not be able to recover from low poll numbers.
Buchanan supporters disagree, saying that their candidate will get a "bounce" from his acceptance speech and that the party's $12.5 million in federal money will fund an advertising message that will propel him into the presidential debates.
The Federal Election Commission and federal courts will likely decide who gets that money, given that each faction accuses the other of vote fraud and other dirty tactics. FEC Chairman Darryl Wold, attending the convention Saturday, said the agency has 10 days to certify the Reform candidate.
Meanwhile, the other Reform Party convention gave its candidate, physicist and Natural Law Party leader John Hagelin, a running mate — Nat Goldhaber, a wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
The Reform Party that existed six months ago has not only split in two, it has seen each faction overrun by outsiders.
The Buchanan wing is filled with recent converts from the GOP. In the Perot wing, Hagelin made Goldhaber, a longtime Natural Law Party backer, his first choice.
Delegates picked Goldhaber over four other candidates, including Lenora Fulani, the New York Marxist and third-party activist who temporarily co-chaired Buchanan's campaign. A Hagelin spokesman, Bob Roth, said the Reform and Natural Law parties will likely merge after Election Day.
Goldhaber, of Berkeley, Calif., received a master's degree from and now serves on the board of the city's University of California campus. His undergraduate degree comes from Maharishi University, where Hagelin has been a professor.
Goldhaber has never run for office, but he served as special assistant to a Republican lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and as interim director of that state's energy agency during the Three Mile Island nuclear plant crisis.
He is 52, has triplet sons and, like this year's Democratic nominee, Sen. Joe Lieberman, is Jewish.
That provides a marked counterpoint to the Buchanan ticket, given that Buchanan has fended off allegations of anti-Semitism and introduced his running mate, Ezola Foster of Los Angeles, as "a lifelong Christian" and the first black woman on a "major party" ticket.
After a stint as an executive at internet giant Sun Microsystems, Goldhaber founded an Internet company called Cybergold that sold last week for a reported $157 million. He said he'll spend some of his wealth on the campaign.
In his speech, Buchanan ignored the alternative Reform ticket, taking aim at the Republicans.
He vowed to no longer accept "one-sided trade deals" with Communist China, warning the Chinese to "stop this persecution of Christians and these threats to our friends in Taiwan" or "you fellows have sold your last pair of chopsticks in any mall" in America.
He tweaked Republican nominee George W. Bush for getting so "carried away" by his signature issue of education that he told a South Carolina audience during the primaries:
"Rarely has the question asked: Is our children learning?"
"Well, our children is certainly not learning in Texas, Governor," he said.
He cast the new Reform Party — his Reform Party — as more vehemently anti-abortion than the GOP, on display last week in Philadelphia where Bush made only passing reference to the issue.
"Republicans may be running away from life," he said. "I will never run away — because their cause is my cause, and their cause is God's" cause.
Calling for an end to foreign aid and the return of American troops from abroad, he said Bush doesn't understand the issue of sovereignty, "but don't worry, he is still being home-schooled by Condoleezza Rice" (his foreign policy adviser).
Ari Fleischer, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, said: "The sun has set on Pat Buchanan's candidacy and will not rise again. Pat Buchanan is old news."
Former Reform Party Chairman Russell Verney, Perot's longtime political operative who is aligned with the Hagelin faction, said Buchanan's speech, like much of his rhetoric, appeals to "fringe groups" like skinheads and white supremacists.
At a Buchanan victory party Friday night aboard the Queen Mary, a vintage cruise ship docked in Long Beach harbor, delegates enjoyed rack of lamb and beef tenderloin and spoke in almost euphoric terms about the week's events and their man's electoral prospects.
One Alaskan delegate opined that the Bush campaign was in emergency mode figuring out how to counteract Buchanan's effect. Others expressed equally strong views that the infighting meant little, dismissing the Hagelin bunch as a meaningless sideshow.
"It's like a little dog with a big bark," said Dottie Watson, a longtime Buchananite from Louisiana who oversees his organization in much of the South.
Before Buchanan came along, she added, "The Reform Party was dying on the vine." Bruce Charles, a Reform Party national committeeman from Bixby, Okla., said the party is the strongest it's been since 1992, when it was formed as United We Stand America.
"We started with good people, and the fire is like fire on steel. It tempers us," he said.
© 2000, The Dallas Morning News.
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