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San Francisco Chronicle
October 7, 2000


Slim Chances Aren't Keeping Him from Race

By John King

CONCORD -- Eighteen hours after his two main rivals faced off on national television, Nat Goldhaber took his own vice presidential campaign to a much smaller venue: a sports bar in Concord....

Welcome to life on the fringe, political style....

Unless you're a true political junkie, you've probably never heard of Goldhaber. Yet he's on the ballot in at several dozen states, running mate to nuclear physicist John Hagelin. They represent the Reform Party in some states, the Independence Party in New York and the Natural Law Party here in California.

He's no gadfly, either; Goldhaber's business pedigree would do a Republican proud. He's founded computer, multimedia and Internet companies that flourished to varying degrees, bringing Goldhaber enough wealth along the way for two private planes and a yellow Porsche.

He's also a philosophical optimist, at least if his visit to Concord is any indication.

Realistically, the road to the White House doesn't include stops at La Fogota Sports Bar & Grill. The odds are long that Goldhaber and Hagelin will get the chance in January to implement the Natural Law Party platform and its "50-point action plan" that includes "support systematic, scientifically proven programs to reduce stress . . . thus eliminating the root cause of crime."

Yet he's relaxed and involved, saying the effort is worth his time.

"Speaking to audiences across the country, seeing regional and local differences, that's very rewarding," Goldhaber said, pausing to pour himself refreshments from the table's shared pitcher of Coke. "The views based on geographic diversity alone give you a sense of the breadth of American interests. It's something you would never sense in Silicon Valley or Northern California."

On Thursday night, instead of sitting down in Kentucky with the Democratic and Republican nominees for the second-highest office in the land, Goldhaber was at a meeting in Berkeley, where he serves on the executive board of the College of Letters and Science at University of California. But he caught the last half of the debate --and gave both of his rivals high marks for their performances.

"I thought that Cheney and Lieberman were orders of magnitudes better than their bosses," was Goldhaber's review. "I was refreshed, to tell you the truth. There was real dialogue going on."

Not so with the Bush-Gore sniping two nights earlier: "I don't believe these guys -- when you see their lips move, you know they're lying. I believe they're honorable men for the most part, but they also know on which side their bread is buttered."

That's where Goldhaber moves into the territory that third-party candidates share whatever their other views -- the core belief that the two main parties are one and the same.

"The difference as to whether Bush wins or Gore wins is minute or none," Goldhaber proclaimed. He dismissed abortion and gun control as topics used mainly by the Big Two to mobilize their workers: "The issues they use to divide the voting public are not real, and otherwise there fundamentally are no differences."

That same self-assured critique came in Goldhaber's take on money in politics. Campaign finance reform is part of the Natural Law Party platform, but Goldhaber stressed it so much you'd think he's a mellow John McCain: "First seek ye campaign finance reform, and then all else will be added unto ye."

So what's it like being a candidate, having to be prepared -- at least theoretically -- to tackle all facets of government?

"Some of these issues I had in my head a few months ago. Some, I didn't," he admitted. "It's been a fairly steep learning curve, but there's been tremendous fulfillment also."

That's where the philosophical view kicks in. Goldhaber has succeeded in other realms: He didn't need the invite from Hagelin, didn't need the weird squabble in Long Beach with the forces of Pat Buchanan, when Hagelin bid unsuccessfully for the national Reform Party nomination. He certainly has better things to do than kill time over nachos.

But he's doing it. And like fringe party candidates since the beginning of time, a part of him believes that lightning could strike.

"We're trying to really appeal to the most underrepresented minority in the political process -- the people who could vote but don't," Goldhaber commented. "That's what got Jesse Ventura elected."