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Nader Candidacy Sparks Anger Among Democrats - 2004-02-23

In U.S. presidential politics, Democrats are furious and Republicans excited by the prospect of another presidential run by consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Many Democrats believe Mr. Nader's 2000 campaign for president cost Democrat Al Gore the White House. But this time around could be a different story.

Ralph Nader says he is running for president this year because he believes both major political parties have become dominated by corporate interests who care little about the concerns of average Americans.

"We have a moral imperative to take a stand to help rescue our besieged democracy and secure our country and its liberties," he said. "We need to restore the sovereignty explicit in the Preamble to our Constitution - 'We, the People' - not for sale, can decide to displace the corporate controls that try to make everything for sale."

Four years ago, Ralph Nader won less than three percent of the popular vote as the presidential candidate of the Green Party. But some Democrats blamed him for Al Gore's defeat, contending that most of the votes he won in closely contested states like Florida and New Hampshire would have put Mr. Gore in the White House had Mr. Nader not mounted a campaign.

Democrats have reacted with a mixture of anger and determination in the wake of Ralph Nader's decision to run again this year. But many political experts say it is unlikely that Mr. Nader will have the same impact on this year's election.

"Almost always, independent candidates when they try to run again, fall off badly, as much as 50 percent or more," said Professor Allan Lichtman, a presidential scholar at the American University in Washington D.C. "I suspect the Nader vote will tail off sharply this time as compared to 2000. First, because it is a re-run and secondly because I think a lot of progressives are very angry at George W. Bush and are looking for a change, much more so, of course, than in 2000 when some of their unhappiness was directed against the Clinton administration."

Analyst Craig Crawford agrees that Ralph Nader will not appeal as much to Democrats this time around. But he says the consumer advocate turned politician could become a factor in a handful of states if the election is close. He spoke on CBS television.

"I do not think he is going to get quite the support he got in 2000," he said. "But to borrow a title from his most famous book in the 1960s about car safety, to the Democrats he is 'unsafe at any speed'. Even if he does not get as many votes, he could cherry-pick a couple of states and turn the election."

Some Democrats have already lashed out at Mr. Nader for his decision to run again, and some are urging that he drop his candidacy in the final days of the campaign if the election appears close.

But American University's Allan Lichtman says the Democrats might want to avoid going after Mr. Nader directly.

"Nader feeds on confrontation. It only nourishes and sustains him," he said. "The Democrats definitely should not take on Ralph Nader. They should not give him one line of additional publicity."

Unlike four years ago, Mr. Nader cannot count on help from the Green Party to get on state ballots in time for the election. He now faces the daunting challenge of obtaining hundreds of thousands of voter signatures to get his name placed on all 50 state ballots prior to November.