Nader Barnstorming Toward Boston

PORTLAND, Maine -- In the final days before the first presidential debate in Boston on Tuesday night, Ralph Nader began a blitz of appearances in New England to amass and confirm support for his presidential campaign, and to draw attention to his exclusion from the debates.

In the gymnasium of Portland High School, 1500 filled the bleachers and center court and more peered in from the crowded doorways on Sunday night to hear the Green Party candidate implore "people to take power from the power-haves."

Nader received a hero's welcome from the attentive crowd, and asked Peter Baldwin, a drummaker whose troupe revved up the rally with the booming bass of two "community drums," to play a warring, determined rhythm he said descends from the Roman legion. "There's something so primordial about it, it's what I heard when I confronted (General Motors)," Nader said, as the audience clapped and stomped along.

The consumer activist-turned-political candidate then addressed a breadth of issues, ranging from the country's child poverty rate to the decline of universities into what he described as veritable trade schools. Paying particular attention to the environmental issues important to many Maine voters, Nader mocked the perception of environmentalists as "extremists."

"We ought to put the label where it belongs. It is extremist for corporations to pollute, contaminate and poison the world's environment," Nader said. And he derided Vice President Al Gore for failing to enforce eight years of environmental promises, focusing on what he said were weakened or outdated fuel and energy efficiency standards.

Referring to a major forest preservation referendum on the Maine ballot, Nader called for the abolition of all commercial logging in national forests and denounced the paper and pulp industry for cutting the state's woods at two to three times the rate of growth.

Rebecca Mann, a 22-year-old Portland schoolteacher, found Nader's understanding of forestry issues compelling, and she disagreed with claims decreased logging would jeopardize Maine jobs.

"As the logging industry progresses, fewer people are making their living off of it as it becomes more and more automated," Mann said. "I spent four years in northern Maine in college, and even a lot of people in the smaller logging industry up there say that the logging industry is doing it the wrong way. It might be giving a few people jobs, but they can have jobs in a new national or state park."

During a question-and-answer session, Anita Jahoda of Farmington, Maine asked Nader how he responded to liberal voters' concerns his campaign might help the Republicans win the White House, with the possibility of three or four conservative Supreme Court justices being installed by George W. Bush.

"I'm not a clairvoyant and you never can predict," Nader responded, saying conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were both confirmed with the help of Democratic senators. "(Justice) Steven Breyer was Clinton's first choice, and he's a terrible anti-consumer. And then you have Warren, Blackmon, Brennan, Stevens and Souter, all Republicans and some of the better justices on the Supreme Court. I wouldn't guess either way. I don't think the Democrats have any credibility. They could have stopped Scalia, they could have stopped Thomas, and now they turn around and say we have to vote for them because of Scalia and Thomas."

Jahoda, a nursery owner who drove nearly two hours with her husband to hear Nader speak, was satisfied with Nader's answer to the Supreme Court question but believes many potential Nader supporters would still feel apprehensive.

"This is what's being said out there, and there's really not much you can do about it," she said. "I've been trying to tell my Democratic friends that if you vote your conscience, you're not throwing away your vote. They really like his message but they've been brainwashed to believe that a vote for Ralph is a vote for Bush."

Gerald Lewis, a 71-year-old, 12th-generation Mainer agreed that "the critical difference between Bush and Gore is the appointment of Supreme Court justices, and we're going to have to let that go to make a strong showing for Ralph Nader. We've gotten along with Clarence Thomas, the country didn't fall apart."

Lewis seemed to typify Maine Green Party Co-Chair Matthew Tilley's description of Mainers as "fiercely independent, self-reliant, that whole kind of Yankee thing." Tilley predicted a strong showing for Nader in Maine; recent state polls have placed Nader at five percent, with Gore holding at least a sixteen-point lead over Bush, and he predicted that if a Gore win seems inevitable in the state, fence-sitters will feel more at ease voting for the Greens.

Nader's Portland appearance came on the heels of a "super rally" at the Fleet Center in Boston earlier Sunday. Attended by 10,000 people who paid $10 each, the event raised an additional $60,000 through donation boxes passed around the stadium, according to campaign officials. Nader was introduced by progressive scholar Howard Zinn, former talk show host Phil Donahue and filmmaker Michael Moore, and was accompanied by his vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke.

Monday, Nader was to appear in Brattleboro, Vt., and Concord, N.H., before making his way back to Boston Tuesday, where his supporters will protest his exclusion from the presidential debates which begin that evening with a Bush-Gore match-up.

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