washingtonpost.com  > Politics > Elections > 2004 Election

Wis. Peace Activists Shy From Nader

In Bedrock Antiwar Communities, the Positions Click but the Campaign Doesn't

By Jonathan Finer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 10, 2004; Page A12

LUCK, Wis. -- A small but zealous group of antiwar activists in a pacifist commune called Anathoth in this lakeside speck near the Minnesota border say that four years ago, they gave presidential candidate Ralph Nader all five of their votes.

Residents of the rustic community -- founded in 1986 and today boasting nine voting-age members -- say they saw a kindred spirit in the tireless consumer and environmental advocate, as did legions of peace workers across the country.

Ralph Nader, who won widespread support from antiwar activists in 2000, has instead drawn rebukes this year for waging a campaign that could hinder the prospects of Democratic contender John F. Kerry against President Bush. (Tim Roske -- AP)

"He had us excited," said Anathoth's Bonnie Urfer, 52, who helps run Nukewatch, a group that opposes the proliferation of nuclear weapons and energy, out of a second-floor office in her stove-heated wood cabin.

But if Nader fails on Nov. 2 to match the 2.8 million votes he won nationally in 2000, he can blame it in part on his shifting fortunes in places such as Luck (population 1,210) and other far-flung outposts of the peace movement.

"To be honest, I don't know anyone who is supporting him this year," Urfer said. "In our community, he'll get something like zero out of nine."

As the most visible opponent of the Iraq conflict in the presidential race, Nader, who says he would slash the military budget and bring U.S. troops home within six months of taking office, has made his antiwar stance the centerpiece of his campaign. He is counting on the support of like-minded voters, especially as casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to mount.

After the first debate between President Bush and Democratic nominee John F. Kerry, who both declared their resolve to defeat insurgents in Iraq, Nader released a statement warning of an "endless occupation," and a "quagmire war."

But leaders of several peace organizations across the country say that Nader is unlikely to earn widespread backing from their members this year. "I think a lot of us are wondering why he is running again," said Woody Powell, executive director of St. Louis-based Veterans for Peace. "It's not clear what there is to gain by voting for him."

In Wisconsin -- a battleground state with a vibrant peace movement, where last week the high court granted Nader a spot on the ballot -- activists expressed little support for his candidacy.

"There's a lot of people who would be sympathetic to his message, but the antiwar movement is very fractured right now," said Robert Ricigliano, director of the peace studies program at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

Some activists say they are backing Kerry, not because they prefer his platform to Nader's, but because they are concerned he might otherwise lose to Bush, whom they consider the worst available option.

"I'm not even paying much attention to the Nader campaign right now because I am so obsessed with getting rid of the other guy," said Eva Robar-Orlich, 37, a staff member for Wisconsin Peace Action, whose vintage clothing shop in Milwaukee doubles as a voter-registration site and salon for political discussion.

Others, including several residents of the Anathoth commune, expressed disappointment that Nader has failed to turn his antiwar message into a viable, third-party alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Many who think along these lines say they will back Green Party presidential candidate David Cobb, who has called for immediate withdrawal from Iraq but gets few headlines.

Nader, who ran on the Green Party ticket in 1996 and 2000, made a halfhearted attempt to earn its support this year, skipping its convention in Milwaukee and asking for its endorsement, not its formal nomination.

CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company