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CAMPAIGN 2000

Nader Besieged by Ex-Allies as Race Goes Down to the Wire

Politics: Green Party nominee didn't expect Bush to pose a serious challenge to Gore. Now, consumer activist must defend his own persistence in bidding for the White House.

October 31, 2000|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — A week from election day, with the race too close to call, one thing has become clear: A vote for Ralph Nader may well be a vote for keeps.

Nader, lifelong consumer activist, progressive and possible presidential spoiler, never thought George W. Bush would be a contender. More to his point, as he said Monday: "What good is [Al] Gore if he can't beat Bush? I mean, Gore is beating Gore."

As for Bush: "He's a bumbling governor with a bad record who comes down on the wrong side of every issue. Gore should be winning in a runaway."

Instead, it is one of the closest elections in decades--a campaign where the candidates aren't kidding when they tell citizens that every single vote counts--especially in key states in the Midwest and Northwest where the Green Party candidate's support is anywhere from 3% in Michigan to 10% in Oregon, according to the polls.

Liberals Forced to Reconsider

Liberals and left-leaners who thought they could protest politics as usual and still end up with a Democrat in the White House have had to reconsider. A vote for Nader and the Greens may be left to true believers, those who consider the two parties so alike or so corrupt that it doesn't make a difference who is in power.

The support is high enough for Nader to tip the scales away from Gore in states that the vice president must carry if he hopes to win. And anger at Nader has reached a fever pitch among some former friends and allies who can't believe the lifelong citizen advocate doesn't see a major difference between the Democratic nominee and the Republican, Bush.

Moderate Republicans are broadcasting ads aimed at boosting Nader's chances and abortion-rights groups are funding commercials warning that the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision is threatened by a vote for Nader. Rock stars, environmentalists and liberal lawmakers have dedicated the final week to ruining Nader's campaign.

But with seven days until the election, the man who cannot win is steaming ahead, not backing down. He is in Michigan and Minnesota today. He has a super rally--one of the mammoth 10,000-plus events his supporters actually pay to get into, on Wednesday in Milwaukee. Then: Colorado, California (including a rally in Long Beach Friday) and Florida.

The goal is the same as it was when he started: winning 5% of the ballots cast in the general election, which would likely take between 4 million and 5 million votes. It would be a dramatic improvement from his performance in 1996, when his "non-campaign" for president earned him 685,128 votes nationwide, less than 1%.

Federal Matching Funds at Stake

If Nader can make the 5% threshold--he's between 2% and 5% in national polls--he will qualify the Green Party for millions in federal matching funds for the next presidential contest in 2004.

And if he wakes up the day after the election to find his effort short of that magic number and a Republican heading to the White House? Nader says it is the Democrats who let "liberal" become a bad word. He says the time is past when the party that long carried water for the progressive movement can count on its votes.

He spent seven hours on the phone Monday in his bare office, urging labor activists, students and even agricultural leaders to get out the vote. The long and lean 66-year-old sat hunched over at a folding table that held his trademark accordion folder files and a laminated map of the United States with his travels marked in orange crayon.

In a conference call to labor activists, he complained: "The Gore folks have engaged in systematic harassment. It's sort of sad to see people you've worked with for 20, 30 years coming out and speaking against you."

Of his chances: "The only real obstacle we all know is this 'least worse' issue. If it wasn't for that I think we'd have a real torrent."

He is referring to the people who say they want to vote for him but are afraid that if they do they will cost Gore the election, a worry Nader says has been fueled by a "hysteria" on the part of Democrats.

As he heads into the final days, he and his staff have their fingers crossed that their message will be heard. When voters go into the booth and punch their ballot, Nader hopes they remember what he has been saying on the stump for months: "Vote your hopes, not your fears."

He has continued to lash out at Gore even as he pays little attention to Texas Gov. Bush, a man he dismisses as "a major corporation disguised as a human being."

Meanwhile, the Gore campaign has come after him.

Their message to Nader's supporters?

"I would say to those people, there's going to be one of two people who win this election," said Gore spokeswoman Kym Spell. "It's either Al Gore or George Bush, and only Al Gore will fight to protect a woman's right to choose, fight for the environment, fight against big pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies."

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