WASHINGTON—Presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan is expected to leave the Republican Party sometime in October and begin a quest for the White House on the Reform Party's ticket.

A former member of the Nixon and Reagan administrations, Buchanan has been especially critical of the GOP lately, especially on trade, abortion and foreign policy. He began voicing threats to leave the party after a dismal fifth-place performance at the Iowa straw poll in August.

So-called “sore loser” laws on many states’ books prevent Buchanan from running on another party's ticket after an unsuccessful nomination campaign. He would have to leave then, before the primary season begins in early February.

Buchanan has choices other than the Reform Party, which was founded by Ross Perot, including the more conservative Constitution Party (formerly called the U.S. Taxpayers Party). The Constitution Party would seem a better ideological fit, though it does not have the media presence or the resources of the Reform Party.

Buchanan's biggest motivator in bolting the Republicans may be money. The next Reform Party nominee will receive a check from the federal government for $12.6 million because of Ross Perot's vote total in the 1996 election.

It's not that Buchanan was unwelcome in the Constitution Party.

“I tried in both ‘92 and ‘96 and I indicated that I would be pleased to discuss that possibility,” Howard Phillips, who founded the Constitution Party, told the Register.

“He told me if he went to the Reform Party the money is the reason,” said Phillips. “He is not interested in our nomination.” Phillips was recently nominated by Constitution Party as its presidential candidate. “[The money] is not the only factor, but it's a factor.”

Buchanan's campaign would not return calls for comment.

Unlikely Future

There is no doubt that Buchanan's economic views fit well with the protectionist views of the Reform Party. It is Buchanan's social conservatism that puts him at odds with the Reform Party's newest heavyweight, Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who has advocated legalization of prostitution and opposes even a ban on partial-birth abortions.

“It seems strange and ironic that Buchanan would criticize the Republican Party as not pro-life and then would entertain joining a party that's not pro-life at all,” David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, told the Register.

If Buchanan were to win the Reform nomination, he is unlikely to win, but might prove the spoiler. “He's a greater threat to the Republican nominee,” pollster Stuart Rotherberg told the Register. “Polls suggest anywhere from three to five points drawn from the Republican nominee.”

Which is why GOP Chairman Jim Nicholson, among others, has tried to keep Buchanan from leaving. “I asked him to consider very carefully before taking any action that could in any way help Al Gore or Bill Bradley extend the Clinton-Gore era another four years,” Nicholson said at a Washington press conference on Sept. 28.

Republican front-runner George W. Bush wants Buchanan to stay put. “The Republican primary is a contest of ideas,” Bush Press Secretary Mindy Tucker told the Register. Bush, she says, “wants the opportunity to beat him on the ideas.”

Abortion and the Court

With the recent hospitalization of Justice Ginsburg, the next president could appoint anywhere from two to four judges to the Supreme Court.

Joseph Sobran, the Constitution Party's vice-presidential candidate, suggested that the Republicans are no better than Democrats on abortion. “We have a pro-abortion Supreme Court,” Sobran told the Register. “Most of them are Republican nominees. Not exactly stalwarts, are they?”

Conservatives recognize that, while Republican presidencies brought us Supreme Court justices O'Connor and Souter, they also gave us Thomas and Scalia. Democratic nominees waver between bad and worse, say pro-lifers.

“A pro-abortion Democrat will have the chance to solidify Roe v. Wade for a generation,” warned O'Steele. “If abortion is an issue of concern for Buchanan, it really does-n't make sense for him to siphon votes from the Republican nominee.”

“Abortion is the ultimate issue; it deals with life and death,” O'Steele said, referring to Buchanan's penchant for emphasizing economic issues. “Tariffs mean nothing to a dead child. Immigration means nothing to a dead child.”