AIKEN - When Will Tinney got to Long Beach on Wednesday, he found a Reform Party embroiled in conflict and split between two factions: supporters of former television commentator Pat Buchanan vs. founder Ross Perot's side, which is determined to keep the party's nomination out Mr. Buchanan's hands.
The battle between the two sides is no contest for Mr. Tinney, a delegate to the Reform Party convention, or for his colleagues back home in Aiken County's chapter. They are solidly in the Buchanan for President camp. Most of them came to the party as former Republican followers of the man who earned his political wings in the GOP, notably as an aide and speech writer for Richard Nixon.
"It's a make or break convention and the first Reform Party convention that will actually nominate a presidential candidate. Still, some officers of the party would rather destroy the party than have Pat Buchanan prevail," said Gary Bunker, South Carolina Reform Party committeeman, at a party conference earlier this week.
National Reform Party Secretary Jim Mangia, a member of the so-called Old Guard, supports physicist John Hagelin, for president, contending that Mr. Buchanan's conservative stand on social issues will lead the party in the wrong direction. But the new chairman of the organization, Buchanan supporter Gerald Moan, crossed swords with Mr. Mangia, resulting in a procedural fight that saw a walkout by Mr. Hagelin's backers.
Mr. Tinney charges that Mr. Hagelin, who is also the Natural Law Party's candidate for president, is not a member of the Reform Party.
"Hagelin is the pick of the people who are not happy with Pat Buchanan on the social issues, but the weakness of the Reform Party has been that it deals very little with social issues," Mr. Tinney said.
"The Buchanan ticket adds the social side the party never had, but down the line Pat Buchanan supports 80 percent of typical Reform Party issues. He'll add to the ticket, but he won't take anything away," he said.
Until this year when Mr. Buchanan took himself out of the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Tinney was very active in local and state GOP politics. He has won several GOP awards, including life membership in the national Republican Party.
"I became a Reform Party member in 2000 after I realized that my concerns were not being met by Republicans. They could talk the talk but never walk the walk. In my opinions, Republicans said enough to keep conservatives in line but would not keep campaign pledges once they were elected. I was just tired of lip service," Mr. Tinney said.
Despite news out of Long Beach that promises more division and even perhaps an alternate convention run by Mr. Hagelin's supporters, Mr. Tinney anticipates the Reform Party mantle will be placed on Mr. Buchanan's shoulders. He also predicts a very businesslike convention - no buttons, no funny hats, no campaign paraphernalia. He notes that unlike the Democratic and Republican coronations, which were decided before opening day, the delegates in Long Beach will do the work of nominating the president and the vice president.
Whatever the outcome in Long Beach, it will be the first timeMr. Perot is not heading the ticket. In 1992 Mr. Perot formed United We Stand, described by Mr. Tinney as a political action committee, and ran for president spending $60 million of his own money and drawing 19 percent of the vote. After the election, Mr. Perot was instrumental in establishing the Reform Party and headed the party's ticket in the 1996 presidential election, where he amassed 8.5 percent of the vote and earned the party $12.5 million in federal funds for another run.
If the national committee disqualifies Mr. Buchanan, as some members have threatened to do, or if Mr. Hagelin wins the mail-in primary by disqualifying nearly 200,000 Buchanan votes, Mr. Buchanan's supporters might nominate him anyway. In that case, Mr. Hagelin's supporters could cry foul and seek to prevent Mr. Buchanan from access to the federal funds.
Nine delegates and alternates from South Carolina will cast a majority vote at the convention for Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Tinney said. He left Aiken confident that when the dust settles, Mr. Buchanan will be the standard bearer for the Reform Party.
Associated Press reports were used in this article.
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