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Nader's Role as Spoiler Is Touched On

Strategy: For the first time in public, the Gore camp says that a vote for the Green Party nominee could boost George W. Bush's election prospects.


WASHINGTON — Vice President Al Gore's campaign said Friday, for the first time in public, that a vote for Ralph Nader would boost George W. Bush's presidential prospects, as it announced a 24-hour Labor Day blitz of some politically crucial states.

The Democrats' vice presidential nominee, Joseph I. Lieberman, took aim at Nader, the Green Party presidential nominee, with barely a sentence during an informal address at an intimate fund-raiser in Portland, Maine. But it stood out because he and Gore had so far ignored Nader.

A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, the senator from Connecticut said during a brief reception that raised about $20,000 for the Democratic Party. Nader has pulled around 6% in some national polls this summer, but recent surveys have placed him closer to 3%.

"I wouldn't say it has collapsed," Lieberman said of the Nader campaign, "but it has gone way down."

Speaking without notes, he suggested that siphoning votes from Gore could swing close contests to Bush and that votes for Nader in Maine could cost Gore that state's four electoral votes--enough, he said, to make a difference in a close election.

Marathon Campaign Session Planned

Gore's aides do not profess to be overly concerned about Nader, but in the last week Nader supporters began dogging Gore as the vice president campaigned in the Pacific Northwest.

They offered a noisy counterpoint, demanding in their chants that Gore "let Ralph debate" if the vice president and Gov. Bush of Texas, the Republican presidential nominee, negotiate a debate agreement.

Nader's staff said he had just completed one of his most successful campaign trips, which included a speech last week at the Portland, Ore., Memorial Coliseum attended by 10,000 people who paid $7 each.

Touting endorsements from the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America and the California Nurses Assn., Laura Jones, a Nader spokeswoman, said, "When people hear him speak, they are energized, turned on and tuned in."

Meanwhile, taking the showmanship--and one-upmanship--inherent in presidential campaigning to a unique level this early in the race, the vice president plans to campaign around the clock from Sunday afternoon until Monday evening.

So, Sunday afternoon will find him at a construction site in Philadelphia and midnight talking with nurses, orderlies and doctors at a hospital in Flint, Mich. Just before dawn, he'll stop at a diner in Tampa, Fla., and then talk with bakery workers and firefighters there. He'll continue on to a labor rally in Pittsburgh and yet one more rally, at the Louisville Motor Speedway, at the end of the day in Kentucky.

The Labor Day marathon--or "The American Workathon," as the Gore campaign is billing it--will open a week in which Gore plans to focus on the economy and, on Wednesday, deliver a speech that aides said Friday would present a proposed federal budget and set his goals for the nation's economic progress.

For all the attention paid so far in the campaign to health care and education, Gore's advisors and outside experts, including Republicans, know that more often than not voters' choices are built around the economy.

Fears that the switch to a high-tech, trade-driven economy will leave workers behind are at the center of Nader's campaign, and the Gore camp views the nation's economic progress over the last 7 1/2 years as the vice president's strongest card.

Even among Republicans, it is recognized as one of Gore's most powerful weapons.

Twelve years ago, when Bush's father ran for the presidency after eight years as President Reagan's vice president, he talked about crime and devotion to the American flag. But his political foundation was built on this question: Are you better off now than you were eight years ago?

Now, said one Republican strategist who is not enamored of Bush the son but who wants to see Gore defeated, a similar campaign has emerged. The economic growth that has occurred under the Clinton administration will serve much the same purpose for the current vice president.

"It reminds people of George Herbert Walker Bush, pointing out how much things are different," he said.

Still Seeking Debate Forum

At the same time, he said, Gore's vigorous campaign schedule conveys to the voters an energy level that Bush has not demonstrated.

"It's called earning it the old-fashioned way," he said.

After four days of cross-country campaign stops, Gore spent Friday largely out of public view in Washington. He met during the morning with his campaign chairman, Bill Daley, and two others representing him in debate negotiations with the Bush campaign.

Daley said later that Gore would consider offers from cable and network television to conduct debates but only after an arrangement is reached with the Presidential Commission on Debates for three meets with Bush.

He dismissed such forums as CNN's "Larry King Live" and other sole-broadcast forums as "the wrong way to go" because they wouldn't reach as many U.S. viewers as the debates that the commission would organize.


Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this story.

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