Will Greens boost Ralph Nader?

Jun 23 2004

Threat to Kerry may grow this weekend at party’s convention

Dennis Cook / AP file

Green Party activist Peter Camejo explains Monday why he is serving as Ralph Nader’s running mate.

By Tom Curry
National affairs writer

Updated: 12:35 p.m. ET June 23, 2004WASHINGTON – When independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader met with members of the Democratic Congressional Black Caucus at the Capitol on Tuesday, angry shouts were heard from inside the meeting. Some of the Democratic lawmakers stormed out, apparently frustrated by Nader’s determination to stay in the presidential race.

There could well be more Democratic shouts of anger after this weekend’s Green Party national convention in Milwaukee, an event that may be as important to the outcome of the November election as either the Democratic or Republican conventions later this summer.

Unlike the major party conventions, which are mostly pro forma exercises with speeches crafted for news media exposure, there’s still uncertainty heading into the Green convention: Will the Greens nominate Nader as their presidential candidate, nominate current Green Party front-runner David Cobb, endorse Nader, or choose to back no one at all?

If Nader gets the Green nomination, he’d likely be on the ballot in 22 states, including eight truly contested ones that could swing to either President Bush or presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry: Colorado, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin.

Even if the Green Party only endorsed Nader instead of nominating him, it would leave the door open to individual Green Party state organizations to nominate Nader themselves, putting him on the ballot in those states, according to voting expert Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News, a monthly newsletter that analyzes developments in state election laws.

Whether done nationally or at the state level, decisions by Greens to give Nader their party’s ballot lines would save him time and effort, allowing him to focus his efforts on other states, such as Missouri, where the Green Party does not have a ballot line.

The presence of Nader’s candidacy in what are likely to be toss-up states such as Wisconsin could make Kerry’s job immeasurably more difficult in the fall campaign.

Estimating Nader’s effect

While no one can prove that Nader voters this year would vote for Kerry if Nader isn’t on the ballot in their particular state, Nader would complicate Kerry’s travel plans and advertising budget by forcing him to spend time and money in places where he otherwise wouldn’t need to.

Chris Kofinis, strategist for TheNaderFactor.com, a Democratic group that is working to appeal to potential Nader voters, said, “This is an important bloc of voters. Democrats recognize this. Democrats and Progressives are clearly determined to reach out to potential Nader supporters. We know that united together we can finally end the destructive policies of the Bush White House. That’s the power of our message and we believe it will work.”

But some Democrats seem to be taking a different tack. On Wednesday, Arizona Democrats are expected to launch a challenge to Nader’s petition to get on the ballot in that state.

Every dollar the Nader campaign must spend fighting off such Democratic legal challenges is a dollar it won’t be able to spend on Nader’s travel or on radio and TV ads. So, whether legally successful or not, the Democrats’ effort will sap Nader’s strength.

Arizona Democratic Chairman Jim Pederson has alleged that Republican consultant Nathan Sproul “is the primary source of money” for signature gatherers trying to get Nader on Arizona’s ballot. Sproul has denied Pederson’s allegation.

“We have no indication that the Republicans are trying to maneuver support for us,� Nader said Monday.

He did say “there are three or four major Republican donors who have contributed to my campaign,� for example, Robert Monks, an expert on corporate governance, who has worked with Nader on that issue in the past.

Legal warfare ahead?

A resort by Democrats to legal warfare to keep Nader off the ballot might well backfire.

Micah Sifry, author of the book “Spoiling for a Fight: Third-Party Politics in America,” said “the name of the party is the Democratic Party, not the Anti-Democratic Party.â€?

A Democratic legal crusade to obstruct Nader’s efforts to get on the ballot “feeds the Greens’ argument that this system is a duopoly� run by the two major parties in their self-interest, Sifry added.

“The Democrats ought to make a positive case for why people should be voting for them, not using strong-arm tactics,� he said. Sifry sees Democratic blocking of Nader as “part of an ongoing self-destructive dynamic between the Greens and the Democrats.�

At his press conference Monday at which he introduced California Green Party activist Peter Camejo as his running mate, Nader complained of “intimidation by liberals� who are trying to prevent voters from having the chance to support him.

“Too many of these very active liberal Democrats who call themselves progressives are really disgracing themselves,” he said. “When they meet the moment of truth as to whether they are going to stand for the right of candidates to speak … they turn authoritarian and exclusionary.â€?

Camejo’s appeal

Camejo on his ticket may give Nader a stronger appeal to both leftist Greens and to Latinos in New Mexico, Arizona and other states as well since Camejo is fluent in Spanish.

“By selecting Camejo, Nader seems determined to be a decisive factor in this election,â€? said Kofinis. “The potential tragedy from Nader’s candidacy is that he is placing at risk the very progressive causes he has fought for and the very progressive causes that the Bush White House has sought to destroy over the last four years.”

Kofinis and his colleagues sent Nader an open letter Tuesday posing some difficult questions, including this one: “You suggested that Democrats would be better off working to win back the 8 million conservative Democrats who supported George W. Bush in 2000. How can this realistically be done with without pushing the party further to the right and jeopardizing the very progressive agenda you are fighting for?”

Winger said that some Democrats and pundits are misreading the Nader supporters. Would-be Nader voters are smart enough to “understand that if they’re in states where the election is close and they want to defeat Bush, they’ll need to vote for Kerry.�

Cobb works for Green nomination

Meanwhile, from Milwaukee Tuesday where he continued rounding up support, Green contender Cobb told MSNBC.com that he has a plurality but not yet a majority of the approximately 800 delegates to the convention.

Cobb said his primary goal is building the strength of party by increasing party voter registration and boosting local Green candidates. His message to progressive voters, he added, is “vote your conscience� and, if in some states, their conscience tells Greens they must for vote Kerry in order to forestall four more years of Bush policies, “I understand that.�

Cobb said that while he has “immense respect� for Nader, “I don’t understand how a Nader independent candidacy can help build the future of the Green Party.�

Sifry is anticipating a struggle this weekend in Milwaukee: “I suspect the Green Party is headed for a split or an implosion.�

© 2004 MSNBC Interactive
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