Kerry doomed to defeat in November, Nader says

Activist says own race won't affect outcome of '04 presidential election

September 10, 2004|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Independent candidate Ralph Nader predicted yesterday that Sen. John Kerry is headed for defeat in the presidential election - and that this time at least, his own candidacy wouldn't be a factor in the outcome.

The 70-year-old, anti-corporate activist described the campaign by Kerry, a one-time ally, as a blown opportunity against one of the most vulnerable incumbents in years.

Nader praised Kerry not long ago as "very presidential," but he was unsparing yesterday in his critique of the Democratic nominee. He warned that Kerry's weak performance would be "an anchor" that will drag down votes for other Democratic candidates and prevent their party from regaining control of Congress this fall.

Nader, the target of an aggressive effort by Democrats to block his access to the ballot, repeated some of the lines that President Bush has used to attack Kerry and echoed private criticism by some Democrats.

Kerry has surrounded himself with too many campaign advisers, "and they're not letting him think for himself," Nader said.

"You lose your identity after a while, and that is very easily perceived by people. Wavering, flip-flops - all that stuff - is very perceived."

The Democratic nominee has "been on the defensive when he should be on the offensive against Bush," Nader said. Kerry's message has lost its "clarity," and he's "not laying a glove" on the "most vulnerable Republican administration of modern times."

The Kerry campaign dismissed Nader's criticism by noting that Republicans had tried to aid his efforts to qualify for the ballot in several states.

"These charges are coming from a candidate whose campaign is being organized and financed by Bush Republicans," said Chad Clanton, a Kerry campaign spokesman.

On Iraq, Nader charged, Kerry has "tied himself in knots" with his votes both in favor of authorizing force against Saddam Hussein and against a measure for additional funding for the war and reconstruction of Iraq.

Nader said Kerry was "too busy defending his situation in the Mekong Delta 35 years ago to go after Bush" over the casualty count in Iraq. He criticized Kerry for not doing more to counter last week's Republican convention in New York.

"Where were the Democrats?" he asked, faulting the Massachusetts senator for spending time windsurfing off Nantucket while under attack by Bush.

Though Nader has been abandoned by many of his former Democratic Party allies, his scathing assessment may prefigure the arguments that liberal Democrats will employ if Kerry loses.

Kerry, he said, committed a strategic blunder in abandoning the "old Democratic" strategy of making economic issues, such as lagging wage growth and corporate excesses, the focus of his campaign.

Nader has been the target of a drive by Democrats to keep his name off the ballot in as many states as possible. Many Democrats, and others, regard him as a spoiler who cost Al Gore the election in 2000 by siphoning away votes that caused states such as Florida to tip Bush's way.

That problem isn't likely to repeat itself this November, Nader argued, because his candidacy is unlikely to be a factor in the outcome. Nader pointed out that Bush's current lead over Kerry in the polls is "way beyond" his own sparse showing.

Recent national surveys, conducted since the Republican convention, have shown Bush leading Kerry by 7 percentage points, with Nader at just 1 percent among likely voters. Still, some states remain close, and even a 1 percent vote for Nader could affect the outcome.

Nader drew nearly 3 percent of the popular vote in 2000, when he was on the ballot in 43 states.

This year, at least six states, including Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, have rejected his candidacy. But Democrats remain concerned about his presence on the ballot in some swing states that could decide the election.

Nader says he's on the ballot in about two dozen states and hopes to meet ballot requirements in about 40 in all. His status is the subject of court fights in several states, including Florida, and it could be early October before ballots are finalized in every state.

Even as Democrats have waged a campaign to limit Nader's influence in the election, Kerry has tried to reach out to his friend from the antiwar movement of the 1970s. The two held an hourlong private meeting at Kerry's campaign headquarters in May.

Later, Nader praised Kerry in interviews. But the meeting failed to achieve Kerry's goal of getting Nader to quit the race.

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