WASHINGTON — Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader was not content to simply pick his own running mate this week. On Wednesday, he weighed in on Sen. John F. Kerry's deliberations, suggesting he tab Sen. John Edwards for the Democratic presidential ticket.
In an open letter to Kerry, Nader said Edwards had "already gone through a primary campaign and has his rhythm and oratory ... all well honed."
Although Nader's praise paralleled comments from many Democrats impressed by the North Carolina lawmaker's performance during the Democratic primaries, it is unlikely his advice will have much effect.
"We appreciate every suggestion," Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. "But John Kerry is determined to keep this process private, and will make his announcement once the decision's made."
Still, the letter marked another unusual episode in the curious relationship between Nader and Kerry -- who both want President Bush out of the White House, but who disagree on how to accomplish that.
In a meeting with Kerry in May, Nader sought to establish common ground with the Massachusetts senator on goals they share, such as cracking down on corporate crime and supporting union rights. Kerry reminded Nader that they had been on the same side of many legislative fights.
Afterward, Nader praised Kerry for distancing himself from the Clinton administration -- which the consumer advocate thinks was too cozy with business interests -- and for showing what he called presidential stature. Aides suggested the two men would talk again.
But Cutter said Wednesday that no further discussions about a follow-up meeting had occurred. And Nader has resisted what the Kerry campaign and other Democratic leaders would most like: that he end a presidential bid they fear will siphon critical votes from the left in several states, hurting the party's chances of beating Bush.
Nader rejects such concerns, just as he disputes arguments that his candidacy cost Democrat Al Gore the White House in 2000. This year, he contends, his planned focus on attacking Bush's record can attract support from the right and the left, reducing the impact on Kerry.
On Monday, however, Nader heightened worries among Democrats when he chose as his running mate Green Party activist Peter Camejo of California. Nader and Camejo both strongly oppose the war in Iraq, positioning them to appeal to voters who think Kerry has not been critical enough of Bush on that issue.
Kerry voted for the congressional resolution authorizing the war, but has since faulted Bush for not gaining more international support for the invasion and its aftermath.
In his letter Wednesday, Nader lauded the populist "Two Americas" speech on class divisions that helped propel Edwards' presidential candidacy.
Nader also complimented Edwards' record as a trial lawyer who often represented citizens suing corporations. Nader said Edwards could "stand up for the millions of Americans who suffer ... harms and costs every year" from corporate wrongdoing.
Kim Rubey, spokeswoman for an Edwards political action committee, declined to comment on Nader's letter.
Many Democrats are intensifying their efforts to derail Nader's candidacy.
On Tuesday, the Congressional Black Caucus met with him, and several said they urged Nader to quit, in some cases shouting at him. On Wednesday, Democrats in Arizona filed a lawsuit aimed at disqualifying Nader's petition to appear on the state's November ballot.
Nader has turned in signatures in Arizona, Texas and Illinois to get on the ballots in those states. He has also received the endorsement of the Reform Party, giving him ballot access in seven other states.
Nader is seeking the endorsement of the Green Party on Saturday, which could put him on the ballot in more states. However, many Greens are cool to the man who ran for president under their banner in 1996 and 2000.
Some Greens support the nomination of California attorney David Cobb, who has indicated he would focus his campaigning on states either Kerry or Bush is expected to carry easily. That strategy would make his candidacy less of a threat to Kerry than Nader.