Odd Alliances Form in Efforts to Place Nader on the Ballot
WASHINGTON, June 30 — In his search for access to the ballot, Ralph Nader can sometimes seem as if he has never met a third party he did not like.
After all, Mr. Nader, the left-leaning consumer advocate, and Patrick J. Buchanan, the right-leaning commentator, hardly seem like political soul mates. But four years after Mr. Buchanan won the endorsement of the Reform Party, Mr. Nader has succeeded him as the party’s standard-bearer.
His alignment with the Reform Party is but one example of how Mr. Nader is facing such daunting forces to get his name on statewide ballots this year that he is seeking support from groups that do not necessarily share his long-held liberal beliefs.
Mr. Nader’s efforts have only intensified given that last weekend he was spurned by the Green Party, which endorsed him for president in 1996 and 2000.
He is also getting helping from other unexpected quarters. Democrats have sued to keep Mr. Nader off the ballot in Arizona and Illinois and may be planning a similar challenge in Texas, but Republicans and some conservative groups in Oregon, Arizona and Wisconsin are feverishly, if not cynically, mobilizing to get him on ballots in those states in a drive to siphon votes from the likely Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry.
Mr. Nader said in an interview on Wednesday that “there’s no quid pro quo” with the Reform Party or any other that would require him to alter his views.
But political analysts say that by turning to parties that may not be consistent with his ideology and reaping benefits from Republican operatives, Mr. Nader risks tarnishing his longtime reputation as a champion for consumer causes.
“He’s grasping at straws,” Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University, said of Mr. Nader’s alliance with the Reform Party, which drew most of its votes in the last three presidential elections from disaffected Republicans. “It suggests that this is somebody acting with a degree of desperation. He has a drive to run that propels him, irrespective of the consequences. He risks appearing to be a figure of ridicule.”
So far, Mr. Nader is on the ballot in six states — Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Colorado, Kansas and Montana — because of his affiliation with the Reform Party, while David Cobb, the Green Party nominee this year, will be on at least 23.
Oregon had a nominating convention in Portland on Saturday and county officials there are still verifying the signatures gathered for Mr. Nader. State election officials said it was not at all certain whether he had enough signatures to make the ballot; the results are expected in about two weeks, they said.
Richard Winger, the publisher of the newsletter Ballot Access News, which tracks third-party fortunes, said it was common for presidential candidates outside the mainstream to seek out an alternative party for support, even one with divergent ideologies.
He cited three examples: Robert M. LaFollette, a member of the Progressive Party who in 1924 also ran under the banner of the Farmer-Labor and Socialist Parties; George Wallace, a former Democrat who ran in 1968 as the Conservative Party candidate in Kansas, where he faced a difficult petition drive; and John Anderson, an independent in 1980 who ran as a Liberal in New York.
“It’s not really weird,” Mr. Winger said of Mr. Nader’s strategy. “LaFollette, he always said he wasn’t a Socialist.”
The Reform Party was only one political organization Mr. Nader approached for help. In West Virginia, for example, he sought the support of the Mountain Party, a progressive group that shares many of his views on issues like election reform and universal health care. He was told the party was not interested. In California, Judy Barath-Black, chairman of the state Natural Law Party, which supports scientific and peaceful solutions to any conflict, told him there was no groundswell of support.
Shawn O’Hara, national chairman of the Reform Party, which was founded by Ross Perot, sought to play down differences with Mr. Nader. He insisted that Mr. Nader’s views were not entirely out of synch with the party as currently constructed, at least on some issues, like their mutual opposition to world trade agreements and the United States military role in Iraq.
“We’ve moved to the center,” Mr. O’Hara said, while conceding that he once favored the execution of doctors and nurses who performed abortions but now embraced abortion rights as provided by federal law, as Mr. Nader does.
Even Mr. Buchanan said he found Mr. Nader’s union with the Reform party “not unexpected” inasmuch as many of Mr. Buchanan’s Reform Party followers left the party when he did after the last election.
“The Buchananites had very strong positions on social issues, but, by and large, they left,” Mr. Buchanan said. “My guess is the platform has changed back.”
Perhaps even more unusual is Mr. Nader’s apparently unwitting alliance with Republicans in states where a small shift in voting could swing the election to President Bush or Mr. Kerry. Conservative groups have already mobilized for Mr. Nader in Oregon as well as in Arizona, where 46 percent of the registered voters who signed petitions last month to get Mr. Nader on the ballot were Republicans, almost double the percentage of Democrats or Independents, according to a state Democratic Party lawyer.
In Wisconsin, a conservative group said it was preparing to follow Oregon’s example, by urging Republicans to sign petitions when Mr. Nader’s signature drive begins next month.
“We’ll definitely be spreading the word that we’d like to see Nader on the ballot,” said Cameron Sholty, the Wisconsin state director for Citizens for a Sound Economy, a conservative antitax group. “We’ll do phone trees and friends-of-friends, and those Nader events will be a great way to drive our membership to get out to sign petitions for Nader.”
In the interview, Mr. Nader said he had not seen any evidence that Republicans had acted inappropriately and instead accused Democrats of “dirty tricks” to keep him off ballots. He said that while representatives of an antitax group encouraged Republicans to attend a meeting last Saturday in Portland, Ore., to help him collect 1,000 signatures, he said Democrats were “infiltrating” the same meeting merely to block other supporters from getting in.
Mr. Nader said Democrats crowded into a meeting hall, kept other people out and gave the false impression that they had signed petitions for him.
Democratic officials did not dispute Mr. Nader’s account.
“I felt it as my obligation due to the dirty tricks that the far right were doing to stack the seats at that convention,” said Moses Ross, communications secretary for the Multnomah County Democratic Party. “I felt obliged to encourage our Democrats to do something about that.”
Responding to charges that Democrats are intentionally blocking Mr. Nader’s efforts through lawsuits and other means, Jano Cabrera, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, said: “We are aware that different state parties are challenging the validity of signatures Ralph Nader has gathered. While we support these efforts, we have not been asked to provide any resources or asked to participate by any state parties.”
In an effort to blunt Mr. Nader’s support, Howard Dean, the former Democratic presidential candidate, said Wednesday that he would debate Mr. Nader on July 9 on a program on National Public Radio.
And on Wednesday, a political watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, saying the two Oregon conservative groups — Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Oregon Family Council — were violating federal campaign laws with their actions on behalf of Mr. Nader, which amounted to illegal campaign donations.
The watchdog group, which also named the Nader and Bush campaigns in the complaint, said the cost of preparing a phone-bank script used by Citizens for a Sound Economy and the cost of the calls made to encourage members to attend the Nader convention in Portland amounted to illegal in-kind contributions by corporations prohibited by law from doing so. The complaint to the F.E.C. also said that the Bush campaign violated the law by allowing volunteers to make those telephone calls from their offices and that if the Nader campaign was aware of the effort, it, too, violated the law.
Officials with the Bush campaign said they had nothing to do with the efforts by conservatives to get Mr. Nader on state ballots, although they acknowledged that some campaign volunteers might have been lobbying voters to support the effort to get Mr. Nader on the ballot.
“No Bush-Cheney paid campaign staffers were making calls to encourage Republicans to help Ralph Nader,” said Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Bush campaign. “But the campaign certainly understands that when Republican volunteers see that there are Democratic volunteers trying to restrict the choice and keep Nader off the ballot, that they should work to expand the choice.”
Russ Walker, Northwest director of Citizens for a Sound Economy, denied any wrongdoing. “We think it’s a frivolous complaint,” he said. “It’s typical of what those types of organizations do. They’re set up to keep people from engaging in the process. They’re trying to intimidate us and it isn’t going to work.”