MINNEAPOLIS-Jill Stein brought her ambitious, sweeping campaign for president to Minnesota on Tuesday, hoping to offer herself as an alternative for "distraught" Bernie Sanders supporters, indebted students and voters who want to back a "peace offensive" in the Middle East.
"I would maintain that voting for what's throwing you under the bus is a wasted vote," Stein said at Minneapolis' First Universalist Church. "The American people are really owed a real voice here."
For a few hundred who showed up to hear Stein speak, the Greens may offer that voice. While the crowd was populated with longtime Green supporters, it was also flecked with former Sanders backers.
"I know there isn't any question in my mind that I will not vote for the donkey or the elephant," said Ron Wetzell, 69, of Minneapolis. Wetzell said he was "all in and full-out" for Sanders and is now looking for an alternative.
Stacey Scott, 45, of Bloomington said she found that alternative in Stein.
"I've been a Democrat my whole life," she said. A former Sanders supporter, she said she began researching the Green Party this year, read its platform, saw its focus on environmental issues and found a new political home. Now, she volunteers for the local party.
While Sanders attracted thousands of intense supporters to his rallies, Stein's rally was lower-key and had lower attendance. The large Universalist church sanctuary had some seats to spare Tuesday, a pre-event news conference was sparsely attended and the event had more of the feel of a lecture from a beloved professor than an impassioned political rally.
Nationally, Stein has polled in the low single digits. A Harvard-trained doctor from Massachusetts, she told backers and seekers that those single digits are a mark of strength, given what she repeatedly claimed was a lack of mass media coverage for her campaign.
"I think that reflects what incredible hunger there is out there for a politics of integrity that can carry on the vision of the Sanders campaign," she said.
Stein, who also ran for president four years ago, echoed many of the themes Sanders voiced in his late presidential campaign - beginning with free college education. Beyond reducing the cost of college in the future, she advocates erasing current higher education debt using the power of the Federal Reserve Bank.
That appeal to young people, she claims, could lead all 43 million citizens who have student debt to vote for her - enough, she said, to win in November.
"Don't rule out the possibility of turning the White House into a green house this election," Stein said. "Forty-three million is more than enough to actually win the election."
Four years ago, Stein won 13,023 votes in Minnesota, less than half of 1 percent of the vote. In 2000, Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, with Minnesotan Winona LaDuke as his running mate, won 5 percent of the vote.
That 5 percent mark is key. In Minnesota, parties that win 5 percent in a statewide election can net major party status, which helps with campaign subsidies, ballot access and attention.
Andy Dawkins, a former DFL state representative from St. Paul, said he thinks 2016 will bring that major party status back to the Greens. The logic, shared by other Minnesota Greens, stems from a belief that Republican Donald Trump will tank in Minnesota, leaving Hillary Clinton a clear victory and disaffected lefties free to vote Green.
"I think this is the right year," said Dawkins, who ran as a Green for attorney general two years ago.
"We're in this to win. We want to make the White House green," said Brandon Long, chair of the Green Party of Minnesota. But even if the party loses the White House and wins 5 percent, it can declare victory: "We win no matter what."