- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry met yesterday with independent candidate Ralph Nader, but didn’t ask him to bow out of the race, even though the consumer advocate’s candidacy could splinter the Democratic vote in November.

“In the end, I hope I can make people aware that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush,” Mr. Kerry told the Associated Press. “A vote for John Kerry is a vote for the principles and values they care about.”

The Massachusetts Democrat said he hopes to attract Nader supporters by addressing their issues and reducing the consumer advocate’s impact in November. Democrats contend that Mr. Nader’s third-party candidacy in 2000 cost Vice President Al Gore the White House.

“It’s my intention to speak very directly to those people who voted for Ralph Nader last time,” Mr. Kerry said. “I believe my campaign can appeal to them and frankly reduce any rationale for his candidacy.”

The two differ on the U.S.-led war in Iraq. Mr. Kerry voted to use force and fund operations in Iraq, but has criticized President Bush’s handling of the war. Mr. Nader, on the other hand, is a staunch antiwar advocate.

After the meeting, Mr. Kerry didn’t speak with reporters, but Mr. Nader said they talked about the issues they can agree on.

“It was a positive meeting, and I will be meeting again with Mr. Kerry in the future,” Mr. Nader said. “We talked about areas of common agreement that we hope to raise awareness about in the near future — namely, cracking down on corporate crime, corporate welfare and opening up more avenues for people to unionize.”

During a busy day off the campaign trail, Mr. Kerry also met with senators from West Virginia and Louisiana about campaign strategies. The senator wanted to have closed-door meetings with West Virginia Democrats Sens. Robert C. Byrd and John D. Rockefeller IV, who are his campaign chairmen in the state.

“We’ve got to focus on kitchen-table issues — issues that are important to West Virginia families — jobs, health care, education, pension and retirement benefits,” Mr. Byrd said was his advice to Mr. Kerry.

Mr. Rockefeller would not disclose the full context of the meeting except to say, “We discussed the specific needs of West Virginians and Senator Kerry’s plans to address them.”

There was some speculation offered by staffers after his meeting with Louisiana Democrat Sen. John B. Breaux that the meetings might have included a plan for Mr. Kerry to participate in a second vote on an issue that Democrats are desperate to address — a 13-week extension of unemployment-compensation benefits.

Democrats are worried that Mr. Kerry’s absence from the first vote could hurt the candidate. The Senate fell one vote shy of the 60 needed to overcome objections when Mr. Kerry was on the campaign trail.

Mr. Kerry said even though he would participate in a second vote, it wouldn’t matter because at least one Republican who sided with Democrats more than likely would change his vote.

“No, I’m not interested in playing games with the legislation. I mean, if the [Republicans] are serious and promise that every vote will stay where it is, then yes,” Mr. Kerry said.

Based on the industries in the two states, another prediction offered by staffers was that an alternative-energy policy is being formulated. Louisiana has a major offshore-oil-drilling industry and is home to the strategic petroleum reserve; West Virginia has a thriving coal-mining industry.

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