In Oregon, clock ticks for Nader supporters

Supporters of presidential candidate Ralph Nader hope that their third try is a charm at qualifying him for Oregon’s ballot, but they’re running out of time.

Nader supporters have submitted less than one-fourth of the needed signatures to get him on Oregon’s Nov. 2 ballot, and elections officials say the campaign has less than a week to get the remainder.

Nader supporters don’t sound confident.

“We’re within striking distance,” said lawyer Greg Kafoury, Nader’s Oregon campaign coordinator. But the campaign has been hampered by some “pretty dirty pool,” Kafoury said, referring to Democrats’ efforts to keep Nader off the ballot.

Nader twice tried to get 1,000 petition signatures at single events in Portland, but he failed to get enough supporters to show up.

Some Democrats showed up at the second event and intentionally didn’t sign Nader petitions.

Now Nader backers face a tougher challenge of submitting 15,306 valid petition signatures by Aug. 24.

Realistically, Nader supporters need to turn in more than 20,000 signatures by early next week to allow time for counties to verify the signatures and account for those ruled invalid.

“If I were in their shoes, I would want everything in to the counties certainly no later than next Monday or Tuesday,” said John Lindback, state Elections Division director.

Kafoury said that the campaign is turning in signatures to counties as they are gathered.

As of Tuesday morning, only Multnomah County had reported receiving any Nader petitions, Lindback said, though Washington and Clackamas county officials were expecting some petitions.

Multnomah County has received 1,100 sheets of Nader petition signatures, each with one to five names on it, said John Kauffman, county elections director.

That means that less than one-fourth of the needed signatures are turned in.

The Nader campaign mailed petitions to 1,300 people who expressed interest in helping the campaign, Kafoury said. There also are paid and volunteer signature-gatherers on the streets with clipboards.

Nader’s popularity apparently has waned in Oregon since he attracted more than 10,000 people to a rally in Portland in 2000. But Republicans and Democrats are closely watching his ballot status in Oregon.

Oregon is one of 15 to 20 swing states in the presidential race, and Nader could help swing the state to President Bush in a tight race if he draws significant votes from Sen. John Kerry.

Citizens for a Sound Economy/FreedomWorks, a conservative group that helped overturn the Measure 30 tax package in February, has sought to help Nader in an open effort to help President Bush’s prospects in Oregon.

But the group’s Oregon director, Russ Walker of Keizer, said that the Nader campaign hasn’t exactly embraced his offer of support.

“What we’re doing is directing our volunteer members to request petitions directly from the Nader campaign,” Walker said. “Some of our members have been told that they don’t want their help.”

Petition sheets only are available from the Nader campaign, so independent campaigns must work through the candidate’s supporters in Oregon.

Walker said that his group spent money phoning members to urge their attendance at the most recent Nader rally.

“We’ve decided not to put any (more) financial resources into this,” he said.

Walker questioned whether the Nader campaign was organized well enough to get on the ballot.

So did Ted Blaszak, the owner of Democracy Resources of Oregon, a liberal-oriented signature-gathering firm in Portland.

Relying on help from Walker was Nader’s best shot at getting on the ballot, said Blaszak, who turned down the chance to gather signatures for Nader because he supports Kerry.

Kafoury and his ally Lloyd Marbet have failed in their past several attempts to get things on the ballot, Blaszak said. or (503) 399-6615