State battle rages over Nader’s presidential bid

Viewers of an upcoming cable ad in Madison will see an odd bumper sticker flash before their screens – “Bush Nader ’04?”

It’s a put-on, of course, but a politically loaded one. A group of Democrats is airing the 60-second spot next week as an attack on Nader, portraying the independent candidate as the helpmate of “right wing” Republicans who think Nader will siphon votes from Democrat John Kerry.

“That’s just ridiculous,” Nader’s Wisconsin coordinator, Bill Linville, says of any suggestion the Nader campaign is relying on Republican help in the state.

The ad is keyed to Nader’s petition drive this summer to get on the Wisconsin ballot, an effort Democrats are watching closely because they fear the impact of even a tiny Nader vote in an ultra-tight election.

But so far there is little evidence of organized GOP or conservative support for Nader’s ballot efforts in Wisconsin.

The practical reality is that getting on the Wisconsin ballot is so easy that Republicans don’t need to help him and Democrats will be hard-pressed to stop him. Nader only needs to submit 2,000 (but no more than 4,000) valid signatures by Sept. 7, a much easier threshold than many places.

“Even I could get on the ballot,” says Milwaukee attorney Bob Friebert, counsel to the Kerry campaign in the state.
Nader facing ballot difficulties

Elsewhere, Nader has suffered several setbacks as election officials in Virginia, Maryland, Illinois and Missouri denied him ballot access this week. In each case, officials said campaign workers either did not submit enough valid signatures or failed to follow procedures.

Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Linda Honold said Friday that the party would “scrutinize” Nader’s petitions to make sure the names are valid. “If he can get on the ballot legally, that’s great. But we want to make sure the people of the state of Wisconsin actually want him on the ballot,” said Honold.

Kerry’s Wisconsin spokesman, George Twigg, said, “I think we’re operating on the assumption he’s likely to be on the ballot. Two thousand signatures is not difficult to get.”

Twigg said the campaign would make the case to past Nader voters that Kerry is strong on big Nader issues such as the environment and that “there is a difference between what a Kerry and Bush White House would be like.”

Linville declined to say how many names have been gathered so far, but he said the petition drive, most active in Madison and Milwaukee, is on track and “I’m pretty confident we’ll be able to reach the target.”

Because Nader has faced petition challenges from Democrats in other states, he said the campaign is intent on accuracy.

“You have to expect the worst,” said Linville.

“The Nader people have been looking to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t,’ ” said state election director Kevin Kennedy, who also expects several other third-party candidates to get on the presidential ballot the same way.
Nader could tilt election

Wisconsin is among a small number of battleground states where Nader could affect the outcome. One, he is likely to be on the ballot. Two, the state was decided by two-tenths of a percentage point in 2000 and is expected to be very close again. And three, while many observers expect Nader to do worse than he did in 2000 (he got 3.6% in Wisconsin), it wouldn’t take much to tip an extremely close contest.

“So 2 percent could very well tilt the election,” says University of Minnesota professor Larry Jacobs, who has studied third-party performance in the upper Midwest. That explains the Democrats’ “barely suppressed anxiety and rage” over Nader, says Jacobs.

In many Wisconsin polls this year, Nader’s percentage, while small, has exceeded the margin between Bush and Kerry. In a series of surveys in July and August by a private Atlanta-based firm, Strategic Vision, the gap between Kerry and Bush in the state ranged from two points (for Kerry) to zero. Nader’s percentage has ranged from two to three points.
Ad ties Nader to Bush

The anti-Nader ad to air on cable TV in Madison beginning Tuesday is the work of a group of Democrats based in Washington, D.C., operating under the name The ad points to efforts by conservatives and Republicans to help Nader with money and petitions in several other states, juxtaposes images of Nader and Bush, and declares, “The right wing believes that helping Ralph Nader helps George W. Bush.”

David Jones, the group’s president, said the ads are running in Wisconsin and New Mexico because their ballot deadlines are approaching.

“The other reason clearly we’re targeting Wisconsin is that Nader got 3.6 percent in 2000 and Gore had to spend resources there when he should not have had to,” said Jones.

The group is spending $50,000 in the two states on cable ads that will mostly air on news and political shows, said Jones. It will also place print ads.

Are Republicans teaming up with Nader in Wisconsin?

Asked about organized GOP activity for Nader, state Democratic chair Honold said, “I have not seen it in Wisconsin.”

State GOP executive director Darrin Schmitz said, “I’m not aware of any concerted effort at all. He doesn’t need our help. He did well in Wisconsin. They have their Web site. They have a state coordinator. I’m sure they can take care of the job of getting on the 2004 ballot all on their own.”

Most of the reports and rumors about pro-Bush efforts to boost Nader in Wisconsin have involved the conservative group formerly known as Citizens for a Sound Economy, now FreedomWorks.

The group’s Wisconsin coordinator, Cameron Sholty, said in an interview that the organization has notified its members about Nader’s petition drive and encouraged them to sign their names if they have the opportunity.

But Sholty said, “As far as actively circulating petitions for Nader, we’re not doing it. It’s really kind of a waiting and watching situation.”

Nader coordinator Linville said, “We’re not taking any support” from the conservative group.

“It’s only progressives that are collecting signatures for Nader,” he said. “Democrats don’t want to debate Nader on issues because they’d lose. This is just a big distraction.”