Not Nader: Don't waste your vote
"Quixotic and Destructive" Resources
April 8, 2004

In the first week of April, fifteen liberal and progressive activists, including representatives from Americans for Democratic Action and the Council for a Livable world, sent a letter to Ralph Nader praising his advocacy for consumers but urging him to withdraw from the 2004 presidential campaign. "We call on you to stop this quixotic and destructive effort. The stakes are simply too high.," the letter said. "We cannot afford another four years of George W. Bush, but your candidacy only serves to help his re-election campaign."

Rejecting the plea, Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said "You have to stand for something and I think these liberal groups, with their anybody-but-Bush advocacy, are going to get nothing in return."

While stopping short of "blaming" Bush's victory on Nader, the letter also referred to Nader's effect on the 2000 election:

You have done great things in your career as a consumer advocate and we applaud your work, but your presidential race in 2000 led to the most destructive administration we can remember in our 200-plus collective years of progressive advocacy.

Nader has consistently dismissed suggestions that he bears any responsibility for the Bush victory in 2000, although in a speech on April 2 at Shenandoah University in Virginia he conceded "Al Gore slipped on about 18 banana peels and maybe the Green Party was one of them."

A few days later Nader appeared at the Roseland Theater in Portland, OR in an attempt to secure a spot on the Oregon presidential ballot. In the 2000 election Nader drew 5% of the Oregon vote in an extremely close contest which Gore won by just over 6,700 votes. One way to get on the ballot in Oregon is to obtain signatures of 1,000 voters in one place.

A few hours before Nader's scheduled appearance, former Democratic candidate Howard Dean urged Oregon voters to ignore the Nader campaign. "The only way to send President Bush back to Crawford, Texas, is to vote for John Kerry because, unfortunately, a vote for Ralph Nader is the same as a vote for George Bush," Dean told the Associated Press. As a candidate, Dean had enjoyed substantial support in Oregon, where more fundraising gatherings were held for him during the primary campaign than in any other state except California.

Dean's warnings were echoed by other Oregon activists. At a news conference Caroline Fitchett, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon said, "Like it or not, a vote for Nader could propel George W. Bush into the White House." Jay Ward, conservation director for the Oregon Natural Resources Council, agreed, saying that he voted for Nader for president in 1996 and 2000, but this time, "the stakes are just too high to vote for Ralph Nader."

"The liberals are always whining," Nader told Knight-Ridder's Dick Polman. "You know, scapegoating me is a sign of a decadent party, a party that whines instead of going to work.... And this liberal attitude of 'anybody but Bush,' that's like a virus.... They say to me: 'Ralph, you've done great things, but don't run again. You're going to hurt your legacy if there's another four years of Bush' -- the sheer hubris of that.... You know what this is? This is panic. Total panic. They have amnesia about the terrible performance of Clinton-Gore, and they just focus on what Bush has done."

Nader maintains that his candidacy will help Kerry, calling it "a second front" against Bush. Nader would like to meet with Kerry to advise him on how to beat Bush. Kerry, Nader has said, appears "drained of any inspiration," and needs a "jolt."

A few days before his Portland appearance Nader issued a letter to Republicans that he claimed made the case that libertarians and conservatives who were dissatisfied with Bush should support Nader. The editorial writers of The Oregonian commented in response "Self-absorption fueled Nader's campaign for president four years ago. Now he's being driven by self-delusion." Conceding that Nader's stand on economic justice and environmental issues made sense, The Oregonian nonetheless concluded, "he's muttering mostly gibberish about how his vanity campaign is going to affect the race between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry."

In a separate letter to liberals Nader claimed that his candidacy will siphon votes from Bush while moving Kerry's position on policy issues closer to Nader's. The letter also suggested that Nader will consider his campaign a victory, even if Democrats lose this year, because he will have encouraged debate about progressive issues and energized voters.

Paul Berendt, chairman of the Democratic Party in Washington, remarked, "[His] arguments are kind of Orwellian. If you lose, you win. If we have four more years of Bush and he takes us into another war, by Nader's argument we win. It's a bizarre argument."

John Brummett of the Arkansas News Bureau wrote that Nader's arguments about his candidacy were "like the left-fielder for the Cubs leaving the field to play in the parking lot, arguing that the alignment would accrue to the Cubs' benefit by forcing the eight remaining fielders to play smarter and work harder."

Liberal commentator Jonathan Chait has called Nader "a selfish, destructive maniac." Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry's, who helped fund Nader's campaign in 2000 helped generate 40,000 emails to Nader this year asking him not to run. Hollywood celebrities who supported Nader in 2000 but are not this year include: Phil Donahue, Susan Sarandon, Danny Glover, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Moore, and Willie Nelson.

In the end, Nader failed to qualify for the Oregon ballot, at least in his first attempt. 741 people signed his petition at the Roseland Theater, well short of the 1,000 needed. "Even the best basketball player doesn't get a slam-dunk every time," Nader quipped. According to Greg Kafoury, head of Nader's campaign in Oregon, the candidate will now attempt to qualify by collecting 15,000 signatures over a three-month period.

Whether or not one assigns Nader responsibility for the outcome of the 2000 election, polls show that he has the potential to affect similarly the outcome of the 2004 election. A Quinnipiac University poll on March 17 found that in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, Nader on the ballot could hand the state to Bush. In a head to head race without Nader, the poll found Kerry winning 45% to Bush's 44%. With Nader factored in, however, Bush's percentage is unchanged, while Kerry drops to 40%, and Nader pulls 7% of the vote.

In the Quinnipiac poll, independents chose Kerry over Bush by 48% to 36%, and 14% of Republicans chose Kerry. In a three-way race including Nader, 38% of independents chose Kerry, 34% chose Bush, and 15% chose Nader; Republicans shifted from 14% for Kerry to 11% for Kerry and 4% for Nader. Clay F. Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute said:

Pennsylvania is living up to its promise of being one of the key battleground states of the Presidential election. Ralph Nader again threatens to be the spoiler, taking away enough votes from Sen. Kerry in Pennsylvania to give President Bush a narrow edge at this point.
The fight for President in Pennsylvania is going to be hardest fought in the Philadelphia suburbs. Bush and Kerry are neck and neck in these suburbs – areas where Gov. Rendell ran up big margins as a Democrat running for governor. The other key elements in this battle are independents where Kerry has a slight advantage, and young people, where the President now enjoys a 13-point lead. In these three groups – the Philadelphia suburbs, independents and young people – Ralph Nader is polling in double digits, stealing votes Kerry will need to carry Pennsylvania.

As the Oregon gambit illustrated, ballot access is a key challenge for Nader. The Hartford Courant reported recently that Nader is pursuing a multi-pronged strategy:

  • Presenting himself nationally as an independent candidate
  • Running as an independent in any states where he can
  • In states where he can't run as an independent, creating a party or
  • Using the infrastructure of an existing party

"I would still be an independent candidate, I would just appear on their ballot lines," Nader said about the prospect of using other party's ballot lines. Supporters also worried that the strategy's desperate pragmatism will be seen as inconsistent with the idealism of Nader's rhetoric.

Observers have noted that the strategy could find Nader appearing on ballot lines of parties whose ideologies conflict with his platform. "It's weird," 1980 independent presidential candidate John Anderson commented. "That, to me, would shred the credibility of his effort. It leaves me lacking in the enthusiasm I would normally have with an independent candidate." (Anderson now heads the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington.)

Nader has told the Green party that he would not accept their nomination because it would threaten his status as an independent. But if the national Green party chose not to nominate a presidential candidate, Nader would accept state-level endorsements that would allow him to use the Green party ballot line.

David Cobb, who worked on Nader's 2000 campaign and is seeking the Green party presidential nomination expressed dismay. "I don't understand why the Greens would want to do that," he said, suggesting that the ruse could undermine the party's status in states where Nader didn't use it.

As noted previously Nader is also courting the Reform Party. "We have such a wonderful bond," national party chair Shawn O'Hara cooed after meeting with Nader.

Since 1996 when the Reform Party drew 8 million votes for Ross Perot membership has dwindled to approximately 64,000. O'Hara has actively recruited Nader in an apparent effort to restore the party's popularity, and has promoted the addition of environmental and anti-corporate planks to the party platform. Nader's preference for state-level endorsements is a subject of "negotiation," O'Hara said.

Reconciling Green Party and Reform Party platforms could present a challenge. On immigration policy, for example, O'Hara has said "We are sick and tired of this country being flooded by immigrants." The Green Party platform, on the other hand, says "We must accept the contributions and rights of our immigrants." Nader has said that he agrees with most points on both platforms.

Association with the Populist Party may provide the strangest resonance for Nader. The Hartford Courant included the Populists among the parties whose ballot line Nader will "probably use." The Populist Party originated in the 1880s following a collapse in agricultural prices. Among other things, the Populist platform called for the abolition of national banks, a graduated income tax, and the direct election of senators. By 1896 the Democratic party had adopted many of the Populist causes, and it lost national prominence.

But in 1984 the Populist Party was revived by right-wing extremists with no connection to the party's earlier incarnation. In 1988 the Populist Party presidential nominee was David Duke, former Louisiana state representative and national director of the Ku Klux Klan. Nader apparently intends to once again reincarnate the Populist Party in states where being the candidate of an existing party has legal advantages over being an independent.

Center for Voting and Democracy

Ballot Access News

Americans for Democratic Action

Council for a Livable World

Wolfe, Elizabeth "Liberal leaders urge Nader to abandon bid" Associated Press. 3 Apr. 2004
"Nader rains on Kerry parade in Pennsylvania" Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. 17 Mar. 2004
Jackson, Peter "Pennsylvania a particularly key state for Kerry" Associated Press. 4 Apr. 2004
D'Arcy, Janice "Nader Seeks Strange Bedfellows" Associated Press. 3 Apr. 2004
Cain, Brad "Dean calls on voters to reject Nader's presidential candidacy" Associated Press. 5 Apr. 2004
Posted on Sun, Apr. 04, 2004 Nader Polman, Dick "Nader scoffs at liberal 'whining'" Knight Ridder Newspapers. 4 Apr. 2004
"Ralph Nader's own little world" The Oregonian 5 Apr. 2004
Brummett, John "How Nader could help" The Arkansas New Bureau. 5 Apr. 2004
Cain, Brad "Nader Fails to Qualify for Oregon Ballot" Associated Press. 6 Apr. 2004



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