An Outsider Tries to Shake the 'Spoiler' Label
Nader Distinguishes Platform and Vows to Stay in the Race
By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 26, 2004; Page A01
CONCORD, N.H. -- Ralph Nader was flanked by five supporters and two campaign aides at the Siam Orchid restaurant on Main Street. As usual, the fashion-unconscious candidate's coat pockets bulged, causing the flaps to hang open. He looked at the menu and asked, "What's the most innocuous combination of nutrients?"
"Mr. Nader, I'm Aaron Rizzio, and I'm your campaign coordinator in New Hampshire," one man said from across the table. Nader smiled. Rizzio asked whether the candidate was ready to address a meeting of his supporters.
"Where is it?" Nader asked.
"This is it," Rizzio replied.
Nader, 70, has every intention of playing a pivotal role in the 2004 presidential election, but his campaign is dogged by doubts, dissension and disorganization. The consumer activist is indefatigable, and his supporters are worshipful. But the pall of the 2000 election, in which many Democrats believe Nader tipped New Hampshire and Florida to George W. Bush, hangs heavily over the campaign.
In private, four of Nader's five supporters around the table said they will vote for Democrat John F. Kerry if polls in late October show Nader tipping the state to President Bush.
At Nader's previous campaign stop in a small conference room at Suffolk University in Boston, his top Massachusetts aide said he had tried to rent a larger meeting space at FleetCenter but was told the facility did not want to offend Democrats who were preparing to host their national convention there in July.
And at a California fundraiser, Nader said, two contributors were so fearful of the backlash from Democrats that they showed up in disguise.
"A lot of people get ostracized if they talk to us," Nader said in an interview at Cafe Luna on P Street in Washington, where he often meets reporters and conducts campaign business while his headquarters is being readied. At the California event, he said, "three people I've worked with for 25 years didn't come. These are people I've funded, groups I've started."
Nader still has some aces. Some Democrats find themselves lukewarm about Kerry and in greater agreement with Nader on issues. Nader has positioned himself as the "peace candidate": He wants to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq within six months -- a position backed by neither Bush nor Kerry but endorsed by 40 percent of Americans.
A Gallup survey of registered voters last month found that Kerry led Bush 50 percent to 45 percent in 16 swing states; with Nader in the race, the Democrat and Republican were even.
Nader has been endorsed by the Reform Party, giving him ballot access in seven states, including Florida, where he won 97,488 votes in 2000 -- Bush's margin of victory there was 537 votes. A strong faction within the Green Party wants to nominate Nader at a convention Saturday night, and the likelihood of this was strengthened on Monday, when Nader chose longtime Green Party activist Peter Camejo as his running mate.
The Democrats are taking Nader seriously. This week, the Arizona Democratic Party joined an effort to block Nader from getting on the state ballot, and the Congressional Black Caucus heatedly asked him to drop out of the race.
On a recent Northeast campaign tour, Nader was hounded about whether he is helping Bush defeat Kerry. Nader stressed that he would draw more GOP voters than Democratic -- a stance belied by several polls, including a Washington Post-ABC poll in June.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company