Conservatives seek to help Nader _ and ultimately Bush

Two conservative groups have been phoning people around Oregon this week, urging them to attend Ralph Nader’s convention Saturday in hopes of putting Nader’s name on Oregon’s presidential ballot.

The groups make no bones about their goal — to draw votes away from Democrat John Kerry and help President Bush win this battleground state in November.

“We disagree with Ralph Nader’s politics, but we’d love to see him make the ballot,” said Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group best known for its opposition to tax increases.

The Oregon Family Council also has been working the phones to boost attendance at Nader’s event — with the idea that it could help Bush this fall.

“We aren’t bashful about doing it,” said Mike White, the group’s director. “We are a conservative, pro-family organization, and Bush is our guy on virtually every issue.”

Even if it comes from an unusual source, Nader can probably use the help, given that this will be his second attempt to win a spot on Oregon’s ballot.

In April, Nader held an evening rally in Portland that was intended to attract 1,000 people needed to sign petitions to put him on the ballot. Only 741 showed up.

Nader placed some of the blame on supporters tuning in the NCAA basketball championship game, which occurred the same night, rather than attend the rally.

The 70-year-old consumer activist plans to travel to Portland on Saturday for the second convention, which will be held at a local high school.

The move by the Republican-leaning groups to try to increase attendance at Nader’s mini-convention is entirely legal.

State law says that for Nader to qualify for the ballot as independent candidate, he need only draw 1,000 registered votes — regardless of their party affiliation — together in one place to sign petitions for him.

The head of Nader’s Oregon campaign, Greg Kafoury, said he’s had no contact with the two conservative groups that have been calling people this week. But he said he’s not bothered by their actions, either.

“It’s a free country; anybody can come to a political convention,” Kafoury said, adding that he’s hopeful Nader will draw enough people to qualify for the ballot this time.

If Nader qualifies for Oregon’s ballot, polls suggest that he could be a factor in whether Kerry or Bush wins the seven electoral votes of this swing state in November.

In the 2000 election, Nader got 5 percent of the Oregon vote in one of the closest presidential contests in the country. Democrat Al Gore edged George Bush by less than 1 percent of the vote.

Democrats such as Neel Pender, executive director of the state Democratic Party, are convinced Nader threw the 2000 election to Bush and might end up playing a spoiler’s rule again this year.

Pender said he’s not surprised the GOP-leaning groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Oregon Family Council are overtly helping Nader this time around.

“They recognize that every vote for anyone other than John Kerry increases the likelihood that George Bush will be re-elected,” Pender said.

“Only Ralph Nader’s hubris prevents him from reaching the same obvious conclusion,” he said.