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During recent weeks, drivers heading south on South Dixie Highway beheld a man in a chicken suit alongside the road. Often the chicken was holding a sign: “Gore Is Chicken,” “Bush Is Chicken,” or “Open the Debates.” Some drivers honked in appreciation. Others scratched their heads in wonder. Given that the man in the chicken suit was actually an effort by Miami's Green Partyto rally support for their presidential candidate, Ralph Nader,wonder might well have been the most appropriate response.
Fundraisers? Phone banks? Direct mail? No, man in chicken suit. “It seems it's the thing that's working best,” shrugs Tom Crumpacker, the Green Party stalwart who has been wearing the suit. According to Miami-Dade Green Party secretary Eric Kobrin, Crumpacker is one of about twenty “core group” members in the county; roughly 40 more people are considered “noncommitted” members. Not exactly a big-time tally. Statewide an estimated 1000 people are registered as Green Party members. Again, hardly the kind of numbers to put fear in a Republican or Democrat.
With issues like Everglades restoration and the development of Homestead Air Force Base looming large in Miami-Dade County, one might think the Green Party, with its environmentally friendly political agenda, would have attracted more local interest. While it is true that Nader's candidacy has helped reinvigorate a virtually dormant movement in Florida, it is also true that Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore are locked in a near dead heat around the state. That makes every vote crucial, and may explain why Gore has received the support of organizations that might otherwise be drawn to the Green Party: environmental groups and labor unions. “In a close election, you have to push for the candidate who's better for the environment, and that's Al Gore,” says Frank Jackalone, senior regional representative for the Sierra Club. Interestingly Jackalone logged seven years working for Nader's public-interest organization in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta. But he is a realist when it comes to counting votes. “I think people recognize that Nader isn't a serious candidate,” he observes, “and Al Gore is tremendously better than Bush on the environment.”
Cynthia Hall, president of the Monroe-Miami-Dade Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, doesn't mince words about the union's support of Gore. “We are more scared of Dick Cheney than anything else,” she says. “He's voted [for issues we believe in] 9 out of about 400 times. When it comes to labor issues, he's worse than Jesse Helms -- and that's saying a lot!” Nader? “He hasn't made a dent in Florida with our union people.”
Susan MacManus, professor of political science at the University of South Florida in Tampa, concurs that the state isn't a good match for the Green Party. “This is not a very unionized state,” she says. “If you look at the number of workers who belong to unions, it's a very small number. And it's hard in an election year for the Green Party to get traction when you have to rely on free media.”
Hence men in chicken suits by the side of the road.