For Democratic and Republican politicians, success is usually determined by winning the race. But when a political party knows it really has no chance of winning an election, it must measure success differently.
For the Green Party, success wasn't really measured by the 0.12% of the national vote that its 2008 presidential candidate, Cynthia McKinney, squeezed out. Beat out by money and name recognition, the Greens, as they call themselves, say they define "success" by expanding the political debates over its key environmental and grassroots issues and building party support over time.
This definition will more than likely come into play in Wisconsin in State Assembly District 78, where Green Party candidate Jonathan Dedering is running against incumbent Democrat Brett Hulsey. Last election cycle, Green candidate Ben Manski had a lot of success in his campaign against Rep. Hulsey, bringing in 31 percent of the vote. This is unlikely to be the case with Dedering, who has been unable to bring in the important endorsements and funds that Manski did in 2010.
Nonetheless, for some Green Party supporters in the area, like current Dane County Board Sup. Leland Pan, a loss for Dedering would not mean a loss for the party.
"In a lot of instances running for those seats has more to do with expanding the dialogue, raising awareness around certain issues, offering people a choice and raising awareness about third parties, than it does with actually winning the seat," Pan said. "Obviously there are some candidates that do have a shot of winning, like Ben, and I would obviously like to see Dedering win, but I think there are other benchmarks for success."
Dedering himself named not an election win, but party recognition in the Madison community and the building of activists for the group as a goal of his campaign.
"We need to keep pushing Green Party candidates in the city," Dedering said. "We really need to keep the party active in the city and give people an option to register their support of the party."
The same can be said for Greens on the national level with their presidential candidate, Dr. Jill Stein. Right from the beginning, it was clear that Stein was not going to be competitive in her race. However, for many of her supporters, Stein achieved success because she served as a vehicle to expose the weaknesses they saw in Obama's campaign.Many Greens felt that Obama had moved away from the liberal platform he ran on in 2008. By having Stein run a campaign around those issues, they hoped to push Obama back on the left track.
"Stein has been a success, I think, by drastically changing the dialogue," said Green Party student activist Damon Terrell. "She's elevated issues of student debt, single-payer healthcare and she's elevated issues of drone warfare. These are chinks in Obama's armor that are never going to be exposed from the right because their policies don't make any more sense. I think making Obama at least a moderate left-wing candidate would be nice."
Many Greens believe that Stein has been the most successful Green candidate to run since Ralph Nader, who got a record 2.7% of the popular vote in 2000. Stein is the first Green Party member to raise enough public dollars -- $894,000according to OpenSecrets.org -- to receive federal matching funds. Because of this public support, Stein's campaign manager Ben Manski believes that she could move into the single digits in terms of percentage of the vote in this election. A CNN poll heading from October had Stein at 3% of the national vote.
"The impact of this campaign will be felt for months and years to come in the form of new Green Party candidates from local and state office running and winning elections," Manski said. "Jill Stein's run has already inspired literally millions of people to vote Green both in the presidential and local ticket races and certainly thousands of people to come into the party as activists and candidates."
Pan is hopeful that this can carry over into the Wisconsin political arena.
"I've seen that the Wisconsin Green Party has been re-energized by Jill Stein's campaign," Pan said. "They've been much more active than they have been.So, I hope that that continues beyond the presidential election. Then the Jill Stein campaign will have done its job in building these parties and building the Green Party up."
But the Greens may not be as effective as they hope, according Prof. Donald Downs of the UW-Madison political science department. Downs thinks Green Party candidates might not be achieving their idea of success, locally or nationally.
"My guess is that the Green Party has not been all that effective," Downs said. "I think it's been under the radar and hasn't really gotten much notice."