Folly to Discount Nader Danger

More than a dozen protesters gathered outside the TV studios where Ralph Nader announced his presidential bid recently. Instead of dozens, there should have been hundreds, no thousands, protesting his new White House bid. Nader should be picketed not because he can oust Bush from the White House, but because he can keep him there. An Associated Press poll shows that six percent of voters back his presidential bid. That's higher than his polling numbers as the Green Party presidential candidate in 2000. Nader again claims he not a spoiler and dredges up the tired retort that Democratic Presidential contender Al Gore, not Nader, beat Al Gore and dumped the election to Bush. But Nader did dump the election to Bush.

Despite Gore's bumbles, and allegations by blacks of massive voter fraud, Democrats banked heavily on a Gore win in Florida. Minority and labor votes were solid, Democrats held hordes of offices, and Democratic leaders dumped millions into a voter registration drive in the state. Nader hammered away that there was no difference between Gore and Bush on the environment, health care and labor rights. This fired up the Greens and soured wavering Democrats on Gore.

Though Democratic presidential contender Senator John Kerry downplayed the danger of Nader's candidacy, there's danger again. Polls show that voters are almost evenly split politically. They also show that while most Americans still give Bush high marks for his handling of the fight against terrorism, his personal and political popularity rating has for the moment plunged. His assault on affirmative action, his whittling away environmental and civil liberties protections, and abortion rights, and his tax cut give away that has widened the gap between rich and poor to Grand Canyon proportions has by any measure been a nightmare for millions.

Meanwhile, Kerry seems to have found his political legs. He sprinkles his campaign pitches with a bit of Howard Dean's populist message, and a pinch of Green Party talk about "Two Americas" and the Republican plundering of labor and environmental protections. Kerry has also jabbed at Bush on his economic failures, phantom WMDs and the Iraq quagmire. He may even bag loads of campaign cash, and pose a challenge to Bush.

This is where Nader can hurt, and hurt badly. It will take gobs of money for him to qualify in fifty states, money from all indications that he hasn't yet raised. But Nader doesn't have to be on the ballot in fifty states, just on the ballot in a handful of swing states to cause trouble. Bush has a vise like grip on most of the South and parts of the West, and Kerry has a firm grip on California, and the Northeast states. But it will be a horserace in the rest of the states. A handful of key swing states could likely determine the election.

In 2004, unlike 2000, Bush will have mountains of free media and the bully pulpit of the presidency to sell and spin his policies and image. He will have the solid and enthusiastic backing of conservatives, and won't have to worry about disgruntled right-wing candidates who siphoned off the votes of many hardcore conservatives from him last time around. With Arnold Schwarzenegger's ouster of Gray Davis in California, and Norm Coleman's much narrower, but no less significant Senate win in Minnesota in 2002, Bush could also be competitive in both states which traditionally have been regarded as safe Democratic states.

Nader will again stress rigid environmental protections, social justice, corporate responsibility, massive funding of public education and health care, support for gun control, and abortion rights. This could strike a deep chord with younger voters, and independents. He will relentlessly depict the Democrats and Republicans as clubby good ole' boys hopelessly controlled by big money special interest groups; that also touches a raw nerve among voters fed up with back room deal making by lobbyists and politicians. He will tar the Democrats as appeasers that shamelessly groveled to Bush on domestic issues, and caved in on the war. This can stir resentment, or apathy among frustrated Democrats.

Nader could make his dash for the White House and at the same time avoid bestowing political manna on Bush by urging disgruntled Democrats and independents to vote for him in states that Democrats have a lock on, and urge them to vote for the Democrat in states where the election is tight. But that tactic flies in the face of Nader's avowed mission to build an independent alternative to both Democrats and Republicans.

Legions of Democrats are determined to get Bush out of the White House in 2004. If Nader bulls ahead and equally slams Bush and the Democrats on the campaign trail, as seems likely, he will draw the deserved wrath of millions and earn the permanent tag of spoiler or worse. What a way to be remembered.

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