A day after their first meeting of the campaign, Ralph Nader and advisers to Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) were in a disagreement over whether Iraq had figured into the 70-minute conversation between the candidates.
Iraq marks one significant area of disagreement between Kerry and Nader, with Nader favoring the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and Kerry opposing any precipitous withdrawal until the country has been stabilized.
Some Democratic strategists fear that Nader's antiwar position could become a rallying point for some voters in November, draining votes from Kerry in at least a few states crucial to victory.
Immediately after Wednesday's meeting, aides to Kerry said Iraq had not come up during the meeting, but Nader said yesterday that he had raised it and recommended that Kerry develop and enunciate an exit strategy to sharpen his differences with President Bush.
"I told him you've got to look at it from the point of view of mainstream Iraqis and how they can be persuaded to separate themselves from the insurgents," Nader said in a brief telephone interview. He added that he urged a policy that sets a firm date for a U.S. "military and corporate withdrawal" from Iraq, coupled with internationally sanctioned elections, the promise of more humanitarian assistance, and international peacekeepers.
"I said you need to give the public an exit strategy," Nader said. "Bush doesn't have an exit strategy. He [Kerry] said I have an exit strategy and I'll be talking about it more."
Kerry adviser Steve Elmendorf, who sat in on the meeting, said he had no recollection of Nader talking about Iraq and said he had double-checked with campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and she did not remember it being discussed.
Elmendorf said he remembers Nader raising the Israeli-Palestinian conflict near the end of the meeting but not Iraq. "Ralph Nader is a person of great integrity," Elmendorf said, "and if he says he brought it up, he may have brought it up. But I didn't hear it when I was there."
Kerry, through an aide, declined last night to comment about the dispute between Nader and his advisers, saying the meeting was a private discussion.
Meanwhile, the candidate spent his day on the fly, talking education at a high school in Philadelphia, returning to Washington because of a possible budget vote in the Senate, then turning around two hours later to fly to Boston for a fundraiser.
Kerry, through an aide, declined last night to comment about the dispute between Nader and his advisers, saying the talk was private.