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It's been a difficult week for Ralph Nader.
It started when the Green Party, whose support Nader accepted to get onto many state ballots in 2000, refused him its nomination for 2004. Nader then denounced his former supporters as "strange."
This immediately raises a key question for the 2004 campaign: What can it mean when Ralph Nader calls you "strange"?
Nader, after all, has just accepted the endorsement of the Reform Party, which in 2000 nominated Pat Buchanan. Possibly he's interested in its ballot rights in eight states, or maybe he's hoping to duplicate Buchanan's surprise 2000 showing among Jewish voters in Palm Beach County, Fla.
But the Reform endorsement is part of a wave of right-wing and Republican support Nader has piled up in the past week. It makes absolute sense for Nader to inherit Buchanan's nomination: He's clearly claiming Buchanan's position as the right's favorite third-party candidate.
Last Saturday in Portland, Nader made his second attempt to get on the ballot in Oregon by holding a 1,000-voter convention. His efforts to reach the needed number were bolstered by the conservative groups Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Oregon Family Council, plus Republican encouragement. Nader campaigned for their turnout on a conservative radio talk show.
Republican support for Nader, or at least for his appearing on the ballot, is exploding all over. The Wisconsin chapter of the Citizens for a Sound Economy plans to work to get him onto that state's ballot. According to an Arizona Democratic attorney quoted in The New York Times, 46 percent of the signatures filed by the Nader campaign in that state belong to registered Republicans. Arizona Naderites are being represented by Lisa Hauser, an active Republican attorney and counsel to former GOP Gov. Fife Symington.
Wednesday, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party loosed a passionate call for Nader's appearance on the Florida ballot, calling the Democrats' legal challenge "beyond the bounds of hypocrisy."
This week, Business Week Online reported that of the $1 million raised by Nader so far, $41,000 comes from major Bush contributors. That included $2,000 from Richard Egan, who raised $200,000 for Bush -- which qualifies him, in the GOP fund-raising hierarchy, as a Ranger -- and served as Bush's ambassador to Ireland. A spokesman told Business Week it must be "a different Dick Egan," but then the Boston Globe reported Thursday that not only was it the same Dick Egan, but his son and daughter-in-law had given another $4,000 to Nader.
Once, it was Nader's Raiders.
Now, it's Nader's Rangers.
Everybody understands what's going on here, except Nader, who insists that he sees no Republican effort to bolster Bush by getting him on the ballot. Nader will, he insists, take more votes from Bush than from John Kerry, which is contradicted by every poll, and would be a considerable surprise to the Citizens for a Sound Economy and the one and only deep-pocketed Richard Egan.
It would also be a surprise to the Greens, who nominated David Cobb for president after he pledged not to campaign in swing states and who chose a vice-presidential candidate who said she'd vote for the ticket most likely to defeat Bush. Last month Nader, who'd complained that Democrats had treated him with no respect in 2000, met with Kerry, and then said that he might try to avoid swing states.
A few weeks later, Nader said he might only campaign in swing states.
After all, they offer more media.
Nader, unlike many of his new supporters, insists his campaign isn't about helping President Bush. In fact, Nader recently called for Bush's impeachment, although it might just be simpler for Nader not to help re-elect him. Nader's preference for impeaching Bush suggests only an up-to-now unsuspected fondness on his part for Vice President Cheney, who would then be installed in the Oval Office.
If that outcome seems what you might call "strange," bear in mind that this year's Nader campaign isn't about reality or results.
It's about Ralph.
And, increasingly, Republicans.
David Sarasohn, associate editor of The Oregonian, can be reached at 503-221-8523 or firstname.lastname@example.org