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CAMPAIGN 2000

Liberals Beat Drum for Gore, Hope Nader Backers Listen

Politics: Fearful that the Green candidate could tip some states to Bush, an organized effort is underway to bolster the vice president's chances.

November 01, 2000|RONALD BROWNSTEIN | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Gore campaign aides estimate that about half of Nader supporters may be open to supporting the vice president. Given that Nader generally polls 5% or less in national surveys, that isn't a huge amount of votes. But with Bush and Gore so evenly matched in so many states, even small shifts in Nader support could prove crucial. In Minnesota and Oregon, for instance, Gore would be leading Bush in the latest surveys if he won half of Nader's voters.

In these final days of the campaign, the effort to convert those voters is reaching a frenzy. The rally here Tuesday night was part of a series that NARAL, the Sierra Club and the Human Rights Campaign are sponsoring across the country this week, complete with such celebrities as Etheridge.

Of all the groups, NARAL appears to have unleashed the largest effort to reach Nader voters. Last week, it launched $500,000 in television ads in Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin, arguing that a vote for Nader could undermine the right to abortion by helping Bush win the election. This week, the group tripled its ad buy to $1.5 million, adding four additional states to the mix: Washington, Maine, Vermont and New Mexico.

In addition, NARAL is now systematically calling women it has identified as abortion rights supporters who back Nader in 15 key states, urging them to switch to Gore. "We are reaching as many people as we can," says Kate Michelman, the group's president. "We consider this Nader campaign a serious threat to a woman's right to choose because of the potential Nader will give the election to Bush in these key states."

Sierra Club Ads Target Nader Backers

Close behind NARAL in its efforts is the Sierra Club, a leading environmental group. Its efforts may be even more critical to Gore's hopes because environmentalists have provided an important core of support for Nader, especially in Oregon and Washington.

Without mentioning the Green Party nominee by name, the Sierra Club is running television and radio ads in Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Maine challenging Nader's contention that there is no meaningful difference between Gore and Bush on the environment. In Oregon and Wisconsin, the group has even placed ads with that message in alternative newspapers popular on college campuses.

"Those are aimed specifically at the most likely Nader voters," says Daniel Weiss, the Sierra Club's national political director.

Also without mentioning Nader directly, Redford--a longtime environmental activist--has recorded automated phone messages and radio scripts for the Democratic National Committee that target environmentalists with the message that a large difference separates Bush and Gore on this issue.

Similarly, People for the American Way, a group that works on civil liberties issues, launched a television ad Monday in Wisconsin and Oregon parodying an earlier ad from Nader that was itself a parody of a MasterCard commercial. Using the same "priceless" theme from MasterCard that Nader appropriated, the group's commercial says, "The next president could appoint three of the nine Supreme Court justices. With our freedoms at stake, shouldn't you cast a vote that really counts?"

Appearing on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday, Nader angered abortion rights supporters by arguing that even if Bush won and appointed Supreme Court justices who voted to overturn Roe vs. Wade, states would still be free to permit legal abortion if they chose. But that argument doesn't appear to be resonating much: Pentel, the Nader organizer here, says fear about the effect of Bush Supreme Court appointments, particularly on legal abortion, was the most powerful force driving Nader voters back to Gore.

'They Feel Democrats Are to Blame'

Not all the liberals stumping for Gore are comfortable with these hardball arguments. Both Hayden and Wellstone argue that it may be counterproductive to tell Nader supporters that they are wasting their vote. "They don't want to be told they are to blame, because they feel the Democrats are to blame," Hayden says.

Instead, Hayden says, he's urging liberals to back Nader in states that Bush or Gore have locked up, and to support Gore in those where the outcome is still in doubt. Hayden says that approach (which some Web sites also are encouraging) would help Nader reach the 5% vote threshold that the Greens need to secure federal funding in 2004, but it would also minimize the risk of assisting Bush.

Likewise, Wellstone says, "there's nothing mysterious or magical or complicated about this. Ultimately, it's what [liberal columnist] Molly Ivins said a long time ago: If you live in a state that's not close, vote your heart; if you live in a state that's close, vote your head."

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