Nader rejects concerns about role as spoiler

Green candidate says both major parties `must feel the heat'

Aiming for 5% of vote

October 26, 2000|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Ralph Nader dismissed yesterday the rising concerns of Democrats who say his presidential bid could siphon enough votes from Al Gore to cost Gore the election, saying he would press on with his campaign against the "two corrupt political parties" no matter the outcome.

"Both parties must feel the heat," the Green Party candidate said in a news conference. "They're slobbering their way through one election after another, breaking one promise after another and thinking they can fool the American people."

In his rumpled gray suit and with his perpetually slumped shoulders, the legendary consumer advocate has traveled all 50 states - flying coach on commercial jets and attracting the presidential campaign's largest crowds of 10,000-plus - in hopes of building the Green Party into a credible, citizen-powered watchdog party.

His goals, he has said, are to capture at least 5 percent on Election Day, enough to earn federal money for the Green Party in 2004, and to stop the Democratic Party's drift to the center by emboldening its liberal, progressive corner.

But as the presidential race has tightened into the closest since 1960, the 4 percent or 5 percent that Nader is drawing in national polls could make a difference, possibly tilting several swing states toward the Republican candidate, Gov. George W. Bush of Texas.

Polls show that Nader could be a decisive factor in such states as Oregon and Washington - rich with Green Party environmentalists - as well as in such independent-minded states as Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico. All went to Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and could prove vital this time.

Even in California, which offers the most electoral votes, a recent Nader surge has eroded Gore's once commanding lead down to 5 to 7 percentage points, according to recent polls.

Because of the Nader threat, more than 50 Gore volunteers from Maryland will be heading this week to help the effort in Wisconsin.

Last week, a dozen former "Nader's Raiders" - activists who joined Nader's early crusades for safer cars, food and water - urged Nader to reconsider his candidacy.

"It would be cruel irony indeed if your major legacy were to erase the victory from the candidate who most embodies your philosophy, Al Gore, and to give the Executive Branch to the party which has consistently resisted your progressive ideals," they wrote in a letter posted on a "Nader's Raiders for Gore" Web site.

"They are well-intentioned," Nader said of his former associates yesterday. "But they are not in the trenches. They don't understand how the Democratic Party has decayed in the last 20 years."

Labor leaders and congressional Democrats, including Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, have also pleaded with Nader in recent days to urge his followers in swing states to vote for Gore.

In some states, especially on the West Coast, Nader supporters and "Greens for Gore" are organizing "Hold Your Vote" campaigns, urging people to wait until 7:30 p.m. to vote. If exit polls suggest that the race in their state is close, they should vote for Gore; if Gore is ahead by a safe margin, they can back their first choice, Nader.

Similarly, Greg MacArthur, a Nader supporter in New York who bought full-page newspaper ads to run today in states where either Bush or Gore has a solid lead, canceled ads planned for California.

Nader said he did not endorse such "tactical voting," in which only his supporters in states safely secured by Gore or Bush could vote their conscience. "No one can exude trust by running that kind of forked-road campaign," he said in an interview yesterday.

What's more, Nader said, he found little difference between Bush - "a big corporation running for president disguised as a person" - and Gore, with his "Pinocchio nose."

"There may be some marginal differences from time to time," he said. "But the overriding similarity of allowing our government to be taken over by big business far outweighs any minor differences."

At one point, Nader charged: "Al Gore is suffering from election-year delusion if he thinks his record on the environment is anything to be proud of. He should be held accountable by voters for eight years of principles betrayed and promises broken."

But some close to his campaign say that while Nader has railed against Gore with more gusto than he has against Bush, he does not, in fact, want to be a spoiler.

"Contrary to his public pronouncements that he dislikes Al Gore as much as George Bush, Ralph would be very unhappy to see his participation in the political process give the election to Bush," says one associate familiar with his campaign.

In an interview, Nader seemed to rationalize the possibility that his candidacy could help elect Bush. By his calculation, the Nader voters - if they turn out in high enough numbers to cost Gore the election - would also be likely to join with Gore supporters to elect Democrats to Congress and return the House to the Democrats.

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