- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Four years ago, Ralph Nader had a seat on the Sunday talk shows, a spot on 43 state ballots and a gutsy, low-budget campaign that was packing in supporters.

Unbowed at age 70, he is back this year sounding the same pox-on-both-your-houses message. But this time he stands at just 1 percent in most polls and former allies are trying to get him to sit down.

“Welcome to the politics of joy and justice,” Mr. Nader called out to 15,000 noisy fans who crammed Madison Square Garden four years ago this week for a Green Party rally to hear celebrities such as Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore and Bill Murray extol him as a clarion voice of democracy.

When the fog of Election Day cleared, Mr. Nader had 2.9 million votes — 2.7 percent of all the ballots cast — and no regrets that his outsider candidacy just might have tilted the election in favor of George W. Bush. Among many Democrats, though, there was anger that he hadn’t dropped out of the race. Even among some Nader voters, there was a sinking sense of buyer’s remorse.

His message hasn’t changed. “We’re all held hostage to this two-party, winner-takes-all dictatorship,” he said last week in Portland, Maine, accusing both the Republican and Democratic parties of being captive to corporate interests and deaf to ordinary citizens.

But Mr. Nader — this year running on the Reform Party ticket in some states, as an independent in others — has had to claw his way onto ballots across the country in the face of an aggressive anti-Nader campaign spearheaded by some of his former allies.

When the dust settles on various legal challenges, Mr. Nader, who complains of Democratic “dirty tricks” to keep him off state ballots, probably will appear on about 35 state ballots. His name will be absent in three of his top four vote-getting states from 2000: California, Massachusetts and Texas.

Mr. Nader’s place in history also has been muddied. Decades hence, will he be remembered as a fearless consumer advocate beholden to no one, or as a self-absorbed spoiler who tilted one or perhaps even two presidential elections toward Mr. Bush?

Mr. Nader, with characteristic harrumph, shrugs off questions about his legacy, saying no one is about to rip out the seat belts he helped fight to get in cars. His candidacy, he argues, should be measured by the purity of his ideas and ideals, not his chances of winning. Furthermore, he rejects the widely held belief that his candidacy hurts Democratic candidate Sen. John Kerry more than Mr. Bush.

Critics, meanwhile, say Mr. Nader has compromised his reputation for independence by allowing conservatives to help get him on state ballots and by accepting their contributions.

These days, Mr. Nader’s rallies tend to draw dozens or maybe hundreds, rather than thousands. His standing in the polls is on the wane — trailing even the margin of sampling error, as Jay Leno likes to joke. Mr. Nader is drawing 1 percent or 2 percent support in national polls, although registering as high as 4 percent to 6 percent in some surveys in Maine, Minnesota, New York and Wisconsin.

An analysis of Associated Press-Ipsos polling indicates that Mr. Nader’s supporters tend to look a lot like Mr. Kerry’s, although they are somewhat more likely to be young and white.

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