Right Wing Pimping for Nader?

It was a scene straight from Sen. John Kerry’s nightmare file.

The phone script for the Oregon chapter of the ironically named Citizens for a Sound Economy began: “Hi, this is (name here) with Citizens for a Sound Economy. I am calling because we have a chance to stop John Kerry from winning in Oregon.”

It ended: “Ralph Nader is undoubtedly going to pull some very crucial votes from John Kerry, and that could mean the difference in a razor-thin Presidential election. Can we count on you to come out on Saturday night and sign the petition to nominate Ralph Nader?”

Now the nightmare’s about to repeat itself in Wisconsin.

Whose Dirty Tricks?

This alliance with CSE–a group that wants to make tax cuts permanent law, roll back environmental regulations, further privatize health care and expand school choice–is just dandy, according to Nader. Nader, who allegedly opposes all of these positions, has accused Democrats of “dirty tricks”–namely challenging the validity of signatures on his nominating petitions in Arizona–to keep his name off the presidential ballot.

Nader campaign attorneys withdrew the candidate’s nominating petitions in Arizona after the secretary of state found they were 550 signatures short of the 14,694 signatures needed to place Nader’s name on the ballot there.

The Republicans, Nader contends, have behaved appropriately.

Never mind that the right wing is using Nader as a pawn to swing votes toward their golden boy, George.

According to a June 30 poll by CBS News and The New York Times, in a two-person race, 45% of respondents said they’d vote for Democrat Kerry and 44% for Republican Bush. In a three-person race including independent candidate Nader, Bush has a 1% lead over Kerry and Nader has the support of 5% of respondents.

Nader’s Wisconsin signature drive begins in August, and at least one conservative group plans to mimic Oregon, most likely by recruiting conservatives to sign petitions to place Nader on the ballot.

“We haven’t decided exactly what we’re going to do, but we’re watching and waiting,” says Cameron Sholty, Wisconsin state director of Citizens for a Sound Economy. “The first thing we’re going to do is look for Nader campaign events in Wisconsin, and then I’ll alert my membership of these activities so they can attend them and sign the [ballot] petitions.”

In Wisconsin, the Nader campaign needs to gather 2,000 signatures between Aug. 1 and Sept. 7 to place Ralph Nader on the ballot.

New Strategy

But what if many of these signatures are from free-market junkies and Bush-Cheney cheerleaders?

“The bigger problem is people not having a choice at the polls,” says Kevin Zeese, spokesperson for the Nader campaign. “We don’t see any great Republican conspiracy to get us on the ballot.”

Come again?

“Voters don’t want elections determined by legal technicalities,” Zeese says.

Case in point: the 2000 election of George W., in which Nader may have played an indirect role.

So, at a time like this, why would Nader want to lure votes from progressives and those Greens who used to idolize him?

It’s a new strategy for Nader, one that’s created a lot of reticence, says Milwaukee’s George Martin, co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party.

“He chose to run an independent campaign, and he chose the strategy he’s using. He’s aligned himself with Ross Perot’s party and Pat Buchanan’s party and really differentiated himself from what the Green Party stands for,” he says.

“I think this is totally legitimate and appropriate,” says CSE’s Sholty, when asked if trying to get Nader on the ballot could be viewed as disingenuous. “We want people to have as many ballot choices as possible.”

However, only moments earlier, Sholty–mirroring his organization’s Web page and phone scripts–stated, “I think the message is clear we want Nader on the ballot next to John Kerry. They’re both über-liberal with regards to our [organization’s] economic issues. We believe in the Bush tax cuts and don’t want to see them repealed, ever.”

Ben Manski, Nader’s only paid staffer in Wisconsin in the 2000 election and co-chair of the National Green Party from 2001-2004, contends that while ballot access is a top priority for third parties, Nader’s campaign hasn’t been able to gain the support it needs to gain legitimacy.

“I don’t see any signs of an organized form [for Nader] in Wisconsin,” he admits.

Meanwhile, the position of Wisconsin staff director on the Nader for President Web site remains unfilled.

In Milwaukee, George Martin, co-chair of the Wisconsin Green Party, hasn’t seen much local support for Nader either. He is, however, concerned about Nader’s influence on Green politics on the national level.

“The reality of it is that [Nader] does take away from our effort. Many of our members will work on that campaign as an independent,” he says.

In addition, the Nader camp expected the Green Party to refrain from nominating a presidential candidate and instead endorse Nader, who turned down the Green ticket in December, Martin says.

National Democratic Party chief Terry McAuliffe recently appealed to Greens and Nader backers on CBS’s “Face the Nation” by emphasizing the progressive shift in the Democratic agenda since the 2000 election.

“All the issues that Ralph Nader has spent his entire life working on are on the table this year,” he said. “We can’t afford four more years of George Bush.”

Progressives of many colors contend that this shift might not have occurred without Nader’s influence. By the same token, they fear that workers’ rights, health care and environmental safety will be further compromised if Bush is re-elected.