eKC feature
August 27, 2004


Two views on Ralph Nader

Why is everybody picking on poor Ralph?

by Earl Ofari Hutchinson

In the space of a week, Congressional Black Caucus members in a closed-door meeting verbally mugged Ralph Nader; a legion of his progressive pals called him an egomaniac, spoiler, ingrate, a has-been and much worse; and Michigan Democrats threatened to file a federal election complaint against his campaign, charging that he had Republican help to get on the ballot. They hammer poor Ralph for one reason; they are scared stiff that he will dump President Bush back in the White House.

At first glance, it's not a bad fear. Some polls show that a significant percentage of voters like Nader. And despite Nader's repeated and defensive claim that Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore's political bumbles, not his spoiler candidacy, cost him the White House in 2000, if he hadn't been on the ballot in Florida and New Hampshire, Gore might have squeaked by in the popular vote and won the White House.

But personal and political insults, harassment and fears aren't reasons for Nader to quit the race. Early political polls are more a measure of a candidate's name recognition than voter preference. Nader is well known from his many years as a crusading consumer advocate and political candidate. Yet in a tight contest between Bush and Democratic presidential contender John Kerry, with the country hopelessly polarized between Democrats and Republicans, and with a dwindling pool of swing votes, Democrats will vote for Kerry whether Nader is on the ballot or not.

If anything, with Nader on the ballot, it could spur even more Democrats to rush the polls to offset the damage they fear he will do to Kerry. A swelled Democratic turnout could help elect more Democrats that are locked in tight Congressional races with Republicans. In "safe Democratic states" such as California and Massachusetts, there is no risk in voting for Nader.

There's also much truth in Nader's charge that Gore cost himself the White House. Gore's languid, uninspired campaign did not energize core Democrats, that is liberals, blacks and Latinos, nor skillfully craft a message of values, responsibility and economic fairness that stirred moderate white voters in the South. This cost him the four Southern states, including his own state of Tennessee that his former boss Bill Clinton carried in 1992 and 1996.

If Gore had bagged West Virginia, long considered a safe Democratic state, with its five electoral votes, Gore would have won the White House. Every Democratic presidential contender in the past two decades, including Michael Dukakis, who was creamed by Bush Sr. in the 1988 presidential election, carried the state. Bush beat Gore by forty thousand votes in the state. Nader got only ten thousand votes. Nader can't be blamed for the Democrat's inexcusable political failure there and elsewhere.

Nader's message is that the Democrats and Republicans are clubby good ole' boy parties tightly controlled by big money special interest groups, fat cat lobbyists and labor bureaucrats, and that the Democrats have shamelessly groveled to Bush on domestic issues, and caved in on the war. The same big money conglomerates and industry PACs that bankroll Bush also bankroll Kerry. He has also been every bit the saber rattler as Bush in calling for big increases in military and intelligence spending, and preemptive military strikes. He has waffled on doing away with the Patriot Act, courted the gun lobby and promised vigorous dialogue with the right.

But the best reason that Nader should run, beside the fact that it's his right, is that he will be the only presidential candidate that will stress rigid environmental protections, corporate responsibility, massive funding on public education and health care, a minimum wage increase and a speedy withdrawal from Iraq. He will also stress long overdue and much needed campaign reform. That would include more public funding, same day voter registration, equal access to TV time for qualified independent candidates and instant run offs. He would also rekindle the debate on proportional representation.

In the 2003 recall campaign against California Gov. Gray Davis, voters got a rare chance to hear the voices and views of independent, non-traditional candidates on the campaign stump and on TV that they would not otherwise have had a prayer of hearing or seeing. This was unvarnished democracy, and it momentarily stirred the thousands that had long since abandoned the polling place out of anger and disgust at the stranglehold that special interests have over the two parties.

If Nader stays in the race, he will draw the wrath of Democrats and earn the permanent tag of spoiler or worse. But if Kerry does his job and fires the passions of Democrats, and they turn out in big numbers, that might be enough to top Bush. Then Nader won't matter. So stop picking on poor Ralph.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the publisher of The Hutchinson Report Newsletter, an on-line public issues newsletter and author of The Crisis in Black and Black. (Middle Passage Press).

Nader looms large

by John Pearce

Fans and foes of Ralph Nader's '04 presidential candidacy are in pitched debate about whether he should be in the race. But another question looms even larger: What impact is Nader having on the probable outcome of the election?

This question comes down to Nader's state-by-state impact in the Electoral College. As the 2000 election made painfully clear, a small number of votes in a tightly contested swing state can elect a president, regardless of who gets more votes in the country as a whole.

We have tracked all national and swing-state polling data since Nader announced his candidacy and have just released an interactive tracking tool that shows, at a single keystroke, the best current estimate of the Electoral College outlook -- with and without Nader's effect. Based on data from the non-partisan www.PollingReport.com and using the most recent, most reliable "likely voter" poll available for each state, the findings are remarkable.

Nader's presence in the race is currently taking Kerry from Electoral College victory to a dead heat with Bush. As shown by the "Nader 04 Impact Map," at http://www.theunitycampaign.org/battleground/, Nader cost Kerry slight leads in Minnesota and Missouri (Editor’s Note: Nader failed to secure enough signatures to make the ballot in Missouri. He will be on Reform Party ballot in Kansas.) and gives Bush slight leads in Ohio and Nevada. No less crucial, Nader may also tip the balance in several states that are essentially tied (Iowa, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Maine), where his support equals or exceeds the margin between Bush and Kerry.

These results will of course be controversial, despite our reliance on non-partisan data and professional polling best-practice. Polling is imprecise, and, as we continuously update the Impact Map with new polls, the outlook will continue to evolve.

But polling offers the best available evidence regarding our initial question. "What impact is Nader having on the probable outcome of the election?" On this question, the answer is clear. At this time, despite his low polling and lack of popular support, Nader's candidacy seems dangerously likely to tip the balance to George Bush.

John Pearce is Director of the Progressive Unity Voter Fund, creators of www.TheUnityCampaign.org. He can be reached at JohnPearce@TheUnityCampaign.org.



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