Consumer advocate Ralph Nader -- who many Democrats believe played "spoiler" in the 2000 election and helped put George W. Bush in the White House -- announced yesterday that he was going to run for president as an independent.
Nader said neither the Democrats nor the Republicans, awash in campaign contributions, were articulating his concerns for a more involved electorate, a better living wage, a crackdown on corporate crime, for more than two perspectives in presidential debates, and for stronger controls on the influence of money in politics.
"This has to be the only candidacy where the principal opponents are those who agree with you," Nader said in an interview, referring to the hordes of Democrats who have urged him not to run. "It's sad because they've lost their nerve and they've lost their expectations. They're willing to let the Democrats put a nose ring in their nose and say, 'Come along.' "
Spurred by the memory of how Nader siphoned away crucial votes in the 2000 election from Al Gore in Florida and New Hampshire, Democrats yesterday launched a frontal attack on Nader and accused him of being egotistical and irresponsible.
"This is an act of total vanity and ego satisfaction," said New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D). Nader, he added, "cost us the White House last time, and he could again."
The Democratic National Committee issued a statement saying Nader had promised Chairman Terence R.McAuliffe that "he would not criticize the Democratic nominee, but rather would focus on the failings of the Bush Administration. We take him at his word."
As he was leaving Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he attended morning services, Democratic front-runner Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) was asked about Nader's entry. "I'm going to appeal to everybody in this race and we'll make it unnecessary in the end for an alternative," he said.
Although the Republican National Committee studiously declined to gloat, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) declared, "Republicans love Ralph Nader!"
Nader, 69, made his announcement on NBC's "Meet the Press." In a subsequent interview, he predicted that his candidacy would hurt President Bush more than the eventual Democratic nominee. If the electorate were divided into three groups (Republicans, independents and Democrats), Nader said he expects to get more votes from the first two -- votes that otherwise could have gone to Bush.
Many independents, libertarians and Republicans share his concerns over the erosion of civil liberties and the giant federal deficit, Nader said. As to why he is getting a barrage of complaints from Democrats, and none from Republicans, Nader said operatives in both parties are following "a mantra -- an assumption without data."
Nader won about 3 percent of the vote in the 2000 election; Gore and Bush each won 48 percent. Nader's presence on the ballot proved crucial in at least two states. In Florida, Bush won by 537 votes even as Nader won 97,488. In New Hampshire, Bush won by 7,211 votes as Nader won 22,198.
Nader said polls had shown that in 2000, 25 percent of his supporters were Republicans, and 38 percent were Democrats. In 2004, he predicted, far fewer Democrats will vote for him.
John Pearce, a California activist who launched a Web site called RalphDontRun.net, said that even if Nader's numbers for the 2000 election were correct, he still tipped Florida and New Hampshire to Bush. If Gore had won either state, he would have won the election.
Pearce's Web site has received about 165,000 hits in recent days. Like many Democrats who want Nader out of the race, Pearce said he has mixed feelings about the consumer advocate.