- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ralph Nader has no chance of becoming president as an independent candidate, but in a razor-thin contest he could attract just enough liberal votes to deny the Democratic nominee a crucial battleground state needed to win back the White House, election pollsters said yesterday.

But these pollsters also point out that the leftist scourge of American corporate power, who is starting his fourth consecutive presidential bid, has lost much of his support since his high-water mark in 2000, when he won nearly 2.9 million votes including 97,488 in Florida. Many of those votes were sapped from Al Gore, who lost Florida — and thus the presidency — to George W. Bush by 537 votes.

It is unlikely, but under the right circumstances it could happen again in one of several states that have been narrowly decided in recent presidential elections.

“It’s not an impossible scenario but not very likely, but sure, it could happen,” independent pollster John Zogby said yesterday. “I think everybody is sensing that this could be another close one.

“The reason why I say it’s not very likely is that Democrats, especially liberals, want to win this year. I suppose it’s more likely if Hillary Clinton were to win the nomination and some disaffected Barack Obama supporters decided to protest and stayed home or voted for Nader,” he said.

The electorate is polarized, and head-to-head matchup polls show a surprisingly close race between Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the presumptive Republican nominee, and either Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

Election observers do not discount the scenario that this year’s election could be won or lost in a single state. Such was the case in Florida in 2000, when its 25 electoral votes, after a Supreme Court recount ruling, decided the election in Mr. Bush’s favor.

Battleground states that were closely decided in 2000 and 2004 include Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Ohio. Strategists in both parties say that if these or other states remain close, any one of them could decide the outcome and that Mr. Nader’s vote could be the deciding factor.

New Mexico’s five electoral votes were up for grabs in 2000 in a contest Mr. Gore won by a paper-thin margin of 47.91 percent to 47.85 percent, or 366 votes. Mr. Gore’s margin of victory might have been larger if Mr. Nader, who drew 3.5 percent of the vote, was not on the ballot. Mr. Nader’s vote margin sank to 0.54 percent in 2004, but Mr. Bush carried the state.

“If you look at how he did in 2004, he has a diminished relevance. He used to be more about a movement and a cause and now it’s all about Ralph Nader. It’s about promoting himself,” said Josh Geise, executive director of the New Mexico Democratic Party. Still, he added, he expects the state to remain closely contested in the fall.

Frank M. Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll, said voters generally aren’t clamoring for a third-party candidate, but even minimal interest in Mr. Nader could have an effect.

“If it comes down to a close state like Florida or New Mexico, anything could make the difference. Any candidate that can take one or two percentage points of the vote could make a difference in some states,” he said.

DIMINISHING RETURNS?

•Ralph Nader’s share of the vote in the 2000 presidential election: 2,882,955 or 2.74 percent.

Al Gore’s share: 50,999,897 or 48.38 percent.

George W. Bush’s share: 50,456,002 or 47.87 percent.

•Mr. Nader’s share of the vote in the 2004 presidential election: 465,650 or 0.38 percent.

Source: Federal Election Commission


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