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Democrats Fear Nader Could Be 'Spoiler' in 2004 Election - 2004-05-20

Democratic presidential contender John Kerry met with independent candidate Ralph Nader on Wednesday amid Democratic fears that Mr. Nader could play the role of spoiler in the November election and help re-elect President Bush.

Senator Kerry said he did not ask Ralph Nader to abandon his presidential campaign and Mr. Nader said he was determined to remain an independent candidate in November. Both men said they were committed to defeating President Bush and would keep their lines of communication open.

Mr. Nader talked about his reasons for running for the White House in a recent interview on the public affairs network C-SPAN.

"We have got to open up the system," he said. "The country does not belong to two parties even though the two parties think that they own America. They are not doing very well by America, by the way. They are selling elections, they are selling government, they are selling themselves to the highest commercial bidders and have turned our country over to big business domination."

Democrats fear Mr. Nader could draw just enough votes away from Senator Kerry in November to swing the election to President Bush. In the Bush-Gore match-up of four years ago, Ralph Nader won less than three percent of the vote nationwide, but his vote totals in Florida and New Hampshire were larger than Mr. Bush's margin of victory.

In Florida alone, Mr. Nader received more than 97,000 votes. Al Gore lost Florida to George Bush by 537 votes. The Florida result clinched a Bush victory in the Electoral College.

Political analyst Norman Ornstein said that Ralph Nader poses a threat to Senator Kerry because he could draw votes from Democrats in November who want to pull out of Iraq immediately, something both the president and Senator Kerry oppose.

"People who believe that you have got to vote for somebody who is against it [war in Iraq] and who wants to pull out immediately have a candidate and that is Nader," he said. "But what Nader also does is provide an electromagnetic gravitational pull for Kerry to the [political] left."

Experts say that pull to the left could be a problem for Senator Kerry as he tries to appeal to centrist voters in the months ahead.

"If he is going to run as a unifier, he cannot run a harsh, divisive campaign that rallies the Democratic Party base," said William Schneider, a political analyst at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. "Howard Dean tried that and failed. Voters, I would conclude, do not or will not want to replace a president who divides the country from the right with a president who divides the country from the left."

Republicans hope the Nader campaign catches fire and becomes a major distraction for Senator Kerry, but even some of the president's strongest supporters acknowledge that Mr. Bush could have a difficult time in the months ahead trying to convince voters that the administration is on the right track in Iraq.

Former Bush speechwriter David Frum has written a new book called An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror. He was the guest on this week's Press Conference USA on VOA News Now.

"If this election is a referendum on Iraq and only on Iraq, that is going to be very hard for the president," he said. "If the election is a referendum on the global war on terror, of which Iraq is a part, I think that will go very well. So, we are going to have an argument not over the war, we are going to have an argument over what are we arguing about? Is Iraq part of the war on terror or not?"

For the moment, public opinion polls indicate the president's approval ratings are at an all-time low and most surveys give Senator Kerry a slight edge if the election were held today.

However, the election is in November and strategists on both sides say it is far too early to say how the volatile issue of Iraq will play with American voters six months from now.