WHEN WHITNEY SMITH entered the race for a State House Seat, he had no hope of winning. Smith is the Pacific Green Party candidate, and like dozens of other Green Party candidates around the country, his candidacy is heavy on the rhetoric when it comes to bringing new issues to the table.

In July, Smith thought his victory possible only if his opponent dropped dead from a heart attack. But, two months into the race for the Senate District 8, Smith believes he could actually defeat his opponent, Margaret Carter, Democrat veteran of Oregon politics.

Smith's quick turnaround in confidence is a snapshot of the evolution of the Green Party around the country--one that shows what was once a motley crew of rabble rousers coalescing into a viable political organization. According to Ron Brandstetter, chair of the Portland Metro Green Party chapter, they have already raised more money in the past few months than in all previous elections. Green Party organizers invariably point to the candidacy of Ralph Nader as proof positive that the party has pulled itself to its feet. In 1996, Nader was recruited as a Green Party candidate for President, but did not actively campaign. However, with current plans to visit each state at least three times, Nader is actively seeking election. In Washington, the nearest state with current polls, Nader has already gathered a pledged seven percent of support, which translates to more votes than he received nationwide in 1996.

Smith is making a conscious effort to put forward a serious face for his campaign. He is wholly aware that the Green Party has been little better than a footnote in past state and national elections.

"A lot of people think of the Green Party as radicals, pot heads, and tree huggers--ex-hippie losers," said Smith. Just as the party is struggling to shed that reputation, Smith is taking measured steps to act like a serious candidate. A self-proclaimed "blue-collar worker" with an informal political background at best, he stands at the Fred Meyer in North Portland every day after work and hands out leaflets detailing his platform. He points out that he wears a dress shirt while doing so.

If elected, Smith would be the highest ranking elected official in Oregon. Currently, two Green Party candidates hold positions in Oregon--one in Corvallis and one in Salem.