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Profile:  Independent Ralph Nader - 2004-08-01


One of the candidates in this year's U.S. presidential election is no stranger to controversy - as a politician and a consumer advocate. Ralph Nader has been vilified by many as a political spoiler, particularly after being blamed for costing Democratic Party candidate Al Gore the 2000 presidential election. Despite the criticism, he is making a fourth run for the White House.

The voices of discontent are music to Ralph Nader's ears. The former consumer crusader is sounding a familiar message, appealing to Americans who are tired of politics as usual.

"I'm running because I think the two-party system is broken," he said. "I think politics is broken and is corrupt. I think most Americans would agree with that. I think it's a system that is marinated in big commercial money to keep it going. "

Mr. Nader says both the Republican and Democratic parties are beholden to corporate interests.

Corporation-bashing is a familiar theme for Mr. Nader. A former lawyer, he first rose to prominence in the 1960s. He was known as a crusader for the public against government and big business. He forced the automotive industry to make safer cars, fought for the Freedom of Information Act that requires the release of government documents, and lobbied for the Clean Air Act.

He entered politics as a write-in candidate for president in 1992. He ran again in 1996 and 2000 as the Green Party candidate. In 2000, Mr. Nader earned less than three percent of the popular vote. But he won more than 97,000 votes in Florida, leading Democrats to angrily accuse him of costing Vice President Al Gore the election. Mr. Gore lost the popular vote in Florida by just 537 votes.

This time around, Democrats say the Republicans are using Mr. Nader as a weapon to draw votes from Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry. The Republicans are trying to put Mr. Nader on the ballot in many states.

Stephen Hess, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, thinks Mr. Nader's appearance on the ballot this year could swing the popular vote in some states, but probably won't decide the outcome of the election.

"People now understand that every vote counts, there may a 100 million votes, but one vote can count," he said. "And so I think there will be fewer people who will vote for Ralph Nader on what might simply be strategic reasons rather than thinking that they really seriously are electing him for president.

So why does Mr. Nader continue to run for the nation's highest office, despite being a long-shot?

"but the act of running for president, with his celebrity, and of course a great deal of people, a number of people around the country who believe in him, gives him a platform, given him an opportunity to state both what he believes and what he thinks and what he thinks is wrong with the other candidates."

Mr. Nader says President Bush mislead the country into the war in Iraq, and that the war is wrong. Mr. Nader has criticized Democrats for what he calls a lack of imagination, and for what he says are attempts to keep his name off the ballot.

Analyst Stephen Hess says Mr. Nader has no chance of winning, but feels the forum Mr. Nader enjoys keeps alive the type of debate that often leads to positive change in the political process.