Tuesday, September 7, 2004

For Democrats, it’s a serious case of deja vu, although this time, they saw Ralph Nader coming.

Mr. Nader is back on the ballot in Florida, which could decide the presidential election again this time around, but this time as the Reform Party’s candidate. The consumer advocate in 2000 received 97,000 votes in Florida, where Democrat Al Gore lost to Republican George W. Bush by 537 votes.

His campaign said this week that the 70-year-old activist is now on 23 state ballots and that he expects to make it in at least 45 states.

“We’re just about on in all the battleground states,” said Kevin Zeese, chief spokesman for the campaign. “The Democrats need to stop their unprecedented harassment of democracy. They’re losing the fight, and we’re winning the battle of the ballots.”

And Democrats are not happy.

“He can affect the election in a swing state, and that’s the scary thing,” said Aaron Toso, co-founder of the repentantnadervoter.com political action committee. “Even in a battleground state where he is getting only 1 [percent] or 2 percent, he can swing this election.”

Such meager showings are what Mr. Nader is getting in many recent swing-state polls. In Missouri, he is getting about 3 percent; in Michigan, 1 percent, and in Florida, Ohio and Nevada, 2 percent.

“It doesn’t matter, a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, especially in those battleground states” said former Rep. Bob Gammage, a Texas Democrat who is supporting Sen. John Kerry for president.

“The best I can do is look at Florida in 2000 and see how Nader affected that,” said Mr. Gammage, who is working with stopnader.com, one of many Web sites and groups seeking to halt the political progress of Mr. Nader. “And even now, those small percentage points can make a difference in a state.”

In some states, Mr. Nader has simply failed to turn in the legally required signatures. In Virginia, for example, state elections officials said yesterday that Mr. Nader did not turn in enough valid signatures.

“He needed 10,000 and we were able to verify 7,342,” said Jean Jensen, secretary of the Board of Elections.

Mr. Nader had submitted about 12,900 signatures, but almost half were thrown out after local officials and the board’s election services workers cross-referenced all the signatures with local voter lists.

Local Democrats and anti-Bush groups have initiated litigation aimed at keeping Mr. Nader off the ballot in at least six states, including several expected to be close in November.

“Democrats were sufficiently rabid about this election and have pulled out all the stops to make sure the wayward voters do not go his way,” said G. Terry Madonna, a Pennsylvania political analyst and pollster at Franklin & Marshall College.

He said that the challenge to Mr. Nader’s ballot status in hotly contested Pennsylvania was “Democratically financed and Democratically inspired.”

“If you can get your nemesis off the ballot, why not do it?” he said.

Mr. Zeese said Democrats appear to have succeeded in Illinois and Arizona and are also behind lawsuits in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In Ohio, Democrats have also succeeded in creating a negative image of Mr. Nader as the man who cost Democrats the White House in 2000.

“Ralph Nader is receiving among the highest negatives among registered and likely voters,” said Eric Rademacher, co-director of the Ohio Poll. “A lot of Democrats now see him as a barrier to Kerry winning, whereas before that was not the case.”

During all of this, he noted, Mr. Kerry has not said a word about the situation.

“We are still trying to reach out to Kerry,” Mr. Zeese said. “We will have an impact on this election, and they better pay attention to us.”

Mr. Kerry’s campaign did not return calls yesterday.

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