Will Ralph Nader, the man who, depending on how you reckon, either did or didn’t capsize Al Gore’s campaign in 2000, run again in 2004? And, if he does, what impact will he will have on votes this time around?
After three years under George Bush, even some Greens are cool to a 2004 Nader run. Nader’s defining argument in 2000, that centrist Democrats and Republicans are effectively the same party, is looking a little shakier (see, among other evidence: the environment, the war on terror, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department, the federal bench, massive tax cuts…) than it did back then, whatever grain of truth it still contains.
Nader won’t officially declare until the end of this year, but some say this is pure formality, that he’ll be back, no question. Nader-watchers say he will soon announce the formation of a committee that will allow him to start raising money and gaining staff.
But that doesn’t mean that Nader will bag an endorsement from the Green Party. Many Greens point out that the party is making valuable progress in smaller races throughout the country (for instance, a Green is in a run-off election for mayor of San Francisco)—and getting into large, “unwinnable” races like the presidential election just detracts from these efforts. There are currently about 175 Green office-holders throughout the country.
Democrats, fearing that Nader will split a good-sized chunk of the liberal vote as he did four years ago, argue for a unified front against Bush. Predictions are already filtering in that Nader, if he runs, will do much worse than in 2000. Norman Solomon wrote in Grist Magazine on Oct. 23:
“We’re told that another Nader campaign will help build the Green Party. But Nader’s prospects of coming near his nationwide 2000 vote total of almost 2.9 million are slim. Much more probable (given the widespread eagerness to prevent a second term for Bush) is that a 2004 campaign would win far fewer votes — hardly the sign of a thriving party.”
John Rensenbrink, one of the party’s founders and co-editor of Green Horizon Quarterly, a Green journal, says:
“People…are very focused on stopping the right-wing cabal that has taken over the country. Therefore, the focus has to be on defeating Bush. Beyond that, the Green Party needs to project a sense of urgency around saving the country, saving the Constitution, saving the planet. There’s a concern that we’ll be deflected from that message because of the baggage Ralph Nader has from 2000. I doubt he can get over 1 percent of the vote. He’ll have to spend a lot of time dealing with the ‘spoiler’ question, unfairly, but that’s where it is. I’d add to that that he doesn’t want to be a Green, he runs with his coterie rather than party organizers, he doesn’t involve local Green leaders and he doesn’t get the racial issue. I fear if Nader runs, he’ll drag down every other Green in this country. I love him, but this is sheer practical politics.”
The Green Party had little control over Nader during the 2000 election, and leaders point out that he waited till three years after the campaign to give his donor list to the party, despite repeated requests. The party said it will most likely endorse a candidate at its national convention in Milwaukee in June, and there’s talk of nominees other than Nader. Meanwhile Nader has not ruled out running on his own as an Independent.
In a speech last weekend in Madison, Wisconsin, Nader said he’s sick of catching hell for Gore’s, and Florida’s, follies. (A review of the disputed ballots in Florida found that Gore would have won by a small margin had there been a complete rescoring.) The Dems need to get their act together, says Nader, irrespective of what he does:
“They should realize that the retrospect on Florida concluded Gore won Florida. It was stolen from the Democrats. And they should concentrate on the thieves and the blunderers in Florida, not on the Green Party.”
But Democrats do have a right to be concerned about a run by Nader, or any third-party candidate for that matter. In 2000, third-party candidates kept Bush and Gore short of having a majority in 11 states. In the 2002 midterm elections, third-party candidates took 5 percent of the vote or more in 16 states.
Lawrence Jacobs, director of the 2004 Election Project at the Humphrey Institute and Land Grant McKnight Professor at the University of Minnesota, wrote in the Washington Post on Oct. 19:
“The Democratic Party has its own Achilles heel: an apparent collective amnesia. After the devastating impact of Ralph Nader in 2000, one would expect the Democratic leadership to be alert to a similar threat in 2004. But it appears barely to have noticed the continuing draw of Green Party candidates last year. In 2000, Gore eked out wins in Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Results in 2002 statewide elections show that the Greens haven’t gone away. In three of those states, their strength either increased or stayed level.”
Democrats should take heed. Polls currently show that Bush would beat each potential Democratic candidate in a general election, whether Nader runs or not. Maybe Nader’s right when he said that Dems “need to look at themselves first and foremost” to find a winning stance.