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A Fading 'Nader Factor'?

"Yes, we've peeled a lot of votes away over time, but unfortunately we still have many states so close that even a half-percent could matter," said Robert Brandon, who worked with Nader at the activist group Public Citizen in the 1970s and coordinates former associates to oppose Nader's candidacy in battleground states.

In Florida, for example, where Nader received more than 97,000 votes (2 percent) in 2000, and Bush won by 537 votes, the state Supreme Court put Nader on the ballot last month after a lower court ruled him off. He is polling at about 1 percent and has campaigned often in the state.

Democrats blamed Ralph Nader for the outcome of the 2000 election.

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Predicting the voting behavior of Nader supporters, pollsters say, is extremely difficult, because the sample size is so small. They tend to be younger and slightly less conservative than the voting population as a whole, and are more likely to oppose the Iraq war, said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, which has tracked 125 Nader supporters since August.

Throughout Nader's Florida swing on Thursday, including a 45-minute live interview broadcast on the al-Jazeera television network in which Nader flawlessly delivered several answers in Arabic, he referred to Bush and his brother Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, as "the Bush Boys and the Bush Gang." The brothers, he said, are responsible for turning Florida into a "political Disneyland."

"Disneyland should open up a new sector which is to show how unscrupulous corporatist politicians fool voters," Nader said at a news conference in Orlando.

Both candidates, he said, are "corporatist politicians" controlled by the large companies that Nader believes hold the true power in the United States. He described Bush as "a giant corporation in the White House disguised as a human being."

Nader will also campaign in closely contested Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Minnesota and New Hampshire before the Nov. 2 election.

The conventional wisdom -- reinforced by GOP efforts in key states to provide signatures for Nader's ballot drives and assist with his litigation -- has long been that Nader's supporters would otherwise back Kerry. A Zogby International survey conducted between March and September showed that nearly three times as many Nader backers prefer the Democrat to the president.

But evidence suggests that anti-Nader efforts have mitigated some of the potential that his candidacy will hurt Kerry. Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said his research has shown for months that when Nader is removed from poll questionnaires, the margin separating the two major candidates is unaltered.

Other studies indicate that Nader supporters are unlikely to support either major-party candidate. Pew's Keeter said the majority of the Nader voters he has tracked do not identify with either major political party. Richard Bennett of the New Hampshire-based American Research Group said: "Especially since the debates, where Kerry shored up his base, it does not appear that many of the remaining Nader voters would vote for either Bush or Kerry."

Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, which offers political analysis to corporate clients, said Nader's supporters are further from the mainstream of the Democratic Party than they were in 2000. "In 2000, if you lined up the characteristics of Nader's supporters and Gore's supporters, they essentially looked the same, in terms of issues and ideology, with the exception being that the Nader people did not like Al Gore."

Democrats and other groups are publicly pressing ahead with their efforts to whittle away Nader's remaining support by claiming that a vote for Nader is akin to a vote for Bush. DNC Chairman Terence R. McAuliffe this week renewed his call for Nader to withdraw from the race, "so that George Bush doesn't get another four years to lead us down the wrong path."

An anti-Nader organization called the Democratic Action Team reinforced that message by running a new television ad this week in Wisconsin, Iowa and New Mexico. Its message: "Ralph, don't do this to us again." A separate print ad campaign against Nader also began this week in 11 swing states, focusing on alternative newspapers.

Democratic officials said that, between now and Nov. 2, they have no plans to send surrogates, such as former Vermont governor Howard Dean, to battleground states to appeal to Nader supporters. Still, one DNC official said, "we don't want to draw too much attention to his candidacy."

Finer reported from Boston.

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