Nader won't `shut up' and step aside


Candidate: Pleas and criticism, even from former allies, just spur the old warrior onward.

Election 2004

October 23, 2004|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - Third-party candidate Ralph Nader has far less support than he did four years ago when he ran for president from the Green Party. He is on the ballot in fewer states. Most of his former supporters, even his 2000 running mate, have defected to John Kerry's corner. And he drums up audiences for his populist, anti-corporate message wherever he can - on college campuses mostly or, as he did this week in Florida, on Al-Jazeera TV.

But even polling at 1 percent nationally, the increasingly lonely Nader could make a difference if the election is close enough.

Since the former consumer activist announced his candidacy in February, Democrats have tried - through legal battles over ballot access and repeated personal appeals - to persuade him to give up his presidential bid.

Many of his former allies and supporters now deplore him, convinced that had it not been for Nader's 2.7 percent of the U.S. vote in 2000 - specifically, his 97,488 votes in Florida, where George Bush won by a mere 537 votes, or his 22,198 votes in New Hampshire, where Bush won by 7,211 votes - Al Gore would have been in the White House for the past four years.

But with much of the same stubbornness that endeared him to progressives and liberals several decades ago when he was crusading for safer cars and cleaner water, Nader has stuck with his candidacy and is now on the ballot in 34 states, including some hotly contested states where he survived legal challenges, and Washington, D.C.

"It doesn't take even near a percent in a close race to swing this election to George Bush," says David Jones, president of an anti-Nader Web site, "He has nowhere near the support he had in 2000. The point is, it doesn't matter."

Democrats such as Jones say Nader's negligible support, which dropped even further after the debates, could still be enough to tip the balance to Bush in any of at least six states where the race is a dead heat: Florida, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Iowa, New Mexico and Minnesota.

In Florida, which is likely to be pivotal once again, a Quinnipiac University poll this week has Bush at 48 percent and John Kerry at 47 - a statistical tie - and Nader with 1 percent.

Polls are similar in New Hampshire, where 47 percent of likely voters support Bush, 46 percent back Kerry and 1 percent say they're for Nader in a survey by the American Research Group, with 6 percent still undecided.

And in Wisconsin, a state with a strong history of progressive voting where Nader received 94,070 votes in 2000, the two major candidates are tied in some of the state's widely varying polls, with Nader at 2 percent.

Democrats working to keep Nader off the ballots assume that he skims support mostly from Kerry, a theory Nader denies.

The 70-year-old third-party candidate says he draws equally from Bush and Kerry voters. He cites national Gallup surveys that show his voters turning to the Democratic and Republican candidates in equal measure or even in larger numbers to Bush if he is deleted from the ballot.

But Dick Bennett, president of the American Research Group, says that while Nader's support might come from Bush and Kerry equally when viewed nationally, most of his Republican support is coming from voters in safe GOP strongholds such as Utah, Montana and Wyoming who are unhappy with Bush and registering a protest vote for Nader.

"In battleground states, in states where it has an impact, you don't see Republicans supporting Nader," Bennett says.

Frank Newport, editor of the Gallup poll, says that when Nader is removed from the equation in survey questions, the margin between the two major candidates doesn't change much. But he says there are so few Nader voters, it is hard to tell how they would otherwise vote.

"The vote is so insignificant you can't make any conclusions," he says. "One percent is 10 people in a sample of 1,000. Among likely voters, it's an even smaller sample."

Zogby International pulled together their national tracking surveys between March and September to try to get a large enough sample of Nader voters to examine. Zogby spokeswoman Shawna Watson Walcott says the polling showed that, when asked where their vote would go if Nader were not an option, 41 percent of voters said Kerry, 14 percent said Bush and 30 percent said another candidate.

Democrats trying to derail Nader's candidacy have had a few victories. This week in Pennsylvania, another fiercely contested state, the state Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling striking him from the ballot because of fraudulent signatures on his ballot petitions. In Oregon, where he won 5 percent of the vote in 2000, he has been knocked off the ballot.

In Ohio, a decision is pending before the state Supreme Court.

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