WASHINGTON - Dismissing criticism that his Green Party candidacy helped elect President Bush in 2000, Ralph Nader said yesterday that he is weighing a bid for the White House next year.
The veteran consumer activist, whose third-party presidential campaign drew 2.8 million votes in the last election, criticized Democrats for not aggressively challenging the Bush administration's economic policies and its handling of corporate fraud. The party's candidates, he said, have not shown that they are a sound alternative to Bush.
"Too many Democratic candidates have anointed President Bush as a wartime president," Nader said. "You can't do that and win an election."
Speaking to reporters at a breakfast meeting, Nader said he would decide by year's end whether to launch another presidential campaign. If he does, Nader said he would run as an independent or as a Green Party candidate.
In the 2000 presidential election, Nader received about 2.7 percent of the ballots cast nationally, falling short of the 5 percent that would have made the Green Party eligible for federal funding in 2004.
But Democrats believe many of Nader's 2,878,157 votes otherwise might have gone to Al Gore, including 97,488 in Florida, 22,198 in New Hampshire and 10,680 in West Virginia. Gore lost all three states by narrow margins in an election ultimately decided by a split Supreme Court decision.
During the 2000 race, Nader repeatedly argued that there were few differences between the Democratic and Republican parties. Three years later, he said too many Democrats have been too willing to support the Bush administration on foreign policy decisions and tax cuts.
"We have to distinguish between the Democrats' rhetoric and their deeds," Nader said. "The Democrats don't fight for what they believe in."
Democrats dismiss Nader's criticism.
"After the last 2 1/2 years under this Bush administration, no one can credibly argue that there is no difference between the two parties and that we wouldn't be better off under Democratic leadership," said Democratic Party spokeswoman Debra DeShong. "All the American public has to do is ask themselves the question, are you better off today than you were two years ago?"
At 69, Nader still carries much of the fire and the passion he became famous for nearly four decades ago as a consumer activist, first championing seat belts and later air bags. History also records him, though, as the latest in the long string of third-party presidential candidates unable to sustain or capitalize on a burst of momentum.
Could it be, Nader was asked, that the American public doesn't want to embrace a shift from the traditional two-party system of politics?
"That's the cardinal question," he said.
During the interview with reporters yesterday, Nader rejected the suggestion by Democratic candidates and strategists that another campaign would complicate the party's chance to win back the White House.
The Democratic Party, he said, should make its message different from the Republican Party's and aggressively advance reform in the way corporations do business and limit the influence of money in politics.
"They're not different enough for the needs of the country, for the future of the country and the potential of the country," Nader said. "One may be a D-plus and one may be a D-minus."
Jeff Zeleny is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.