Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The national Reform Party announced yesterday that it will endorse Ralph Nader’s presidential campaign, potentially putting the candidate on seven ballot lines, including those in the key states of Florida, Colorado and Michigan.

Mr. Nader will keep his independent status and platform even as he shares many of the Reform Party’s goals, including stronger laws against corporate crime, the softening of foreign-trade agreements and environmental protection.

The Nader campaign and Reform Party heads will decide together which states their candidate will run in under the Reform banner.

“Ralph Nader is a man of peace, and we share many beliefs,” Reform Party Chairman Shawn O’Hara said. “We have 1 million supporters and Ralph Nader has a way, with this party, to reach out and help people.”

The Reform Party’s political stature has diminished since it was created in 1995 by Texas billionaire Ross Perot. Running for president as the top third-party candidate in 1996, Mr. Perot drew 8 million votes, or 8.4 percent or the national total.

But by early 1999, the party was already fractured by internal power struggles. As the party divided, so did its pull. In 2000, Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan garnered a meager 449,000 votes.

Still, with its name recognition and infrastructure, the party’s backing breathes new life into Mr. Nader’s campaign, which failed to get enough petition signatures to gain access to the fall presidential ballot in Texas. The campaign is still actively gathering signatures in most states in order to make ballot deadlines.

At least some of those efforts may prove unnecessary in more states if Mr. Nader can pick up more third-party support.

“We would welcome the endorsement of the Green Party as well,” Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said. “The development of a coalition against the two corporate parties would be very strong and have great benefits to all third-party and future independent candidates.”

The Green Party will decide next month at its national convention if it will field its own presidential candidate or if, like the Reform Party, it will simply endorse someone else.

Mr. Nader sent a letter earlier this year to the Green Party, saying that “should the national Green Party decide to endorse my candidacy and have its members focus their efforts on state and local races, then state Green Party ballot lines and the participation of Greens in a variety of ways would be mutually helpful.”

A Green Party spokesman said that some of the party’s presidential candidates will cede their delegates to Mr. Nader at the convention, although that number is not known. Mr. Nader insists that he will not run as the Green Party candidate as he did in 2000, even as he holds the same views on many of the same issues the party holds dear, including the war in Iraq.

Mr. Nader’s political allure this year has been enhanced in some circles by his opposition to the war. He has proposed a six-month plan to pull U.S. troops out of the country and frequently says that the two mainstream parties are virtually identical on the issue.

Democrats have asked Mr. Nader to withdraw his candidacy almost since he announced in February. Mr. Zeese responds by calling the Democrats “whiners.”

“The Democrats are insecure because they lose so many elections,” Mr. Zeese said. “Look at California, Hawaii, Maryland, none of those states had had Republican governors for some time. This has made Democrats insecure.”

Democrats insist that they do not want to see Mr. Nader’s status as a progressive tarnished while acknowledging that the consumer-rights advocate has the ability to turn the election to President Bush.

“Our feelings are very clear,” said Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera. “We don’t want Ralph Nader’s legacy to be that of a spoiler. If there are issues that he wants to bring to the table, and if he wants change and doesn’t want George W. Bush in office, our hope is that before people vote in November, he withdraws from the race.”

An Associated Press-Ipsos poll released last week gives Mr. Nader 6 percent support nationwide. The survey of 1,000 adults found President Bush and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry in a virtual tie and indicated that Mr. Nader has enough support to affect the election’s outcome.

In Florida last month, an American Research Group poll found Mr. Nader with 3 percent in a state where Mr. Bush prevailed with 537 votes in 2000. In 2000, Mr. Nader appeared on the ballot in 43 states, garnering 2.7 percent of the vote. Democrats claim he stole votes from Al Gore.

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