Without Greens, Nader Faces Uphill Battle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Spurned by the party that embraced him four years ago, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader pressed ahead on Monday with state-by-state petition drives to get on the ballot.

But after the Green Party nominated someone else for president this weekend, Nader faced an uphill battle to match his 2000 campaign when he was on 43 state ballots, said Richard Winger, editor of Ballot Access News. The Green Party is automatically on 22 state ballots.

The Nader campaign is pursing a patchwork strategy that involves running as a third party candidate in some states, and as an independent in others.

Complicating Nader’s efforts to collect some one million signatures nationwide are Democrats who are challenging his petition drives and conservative groups that are pitching in to help Nader, an icon to many liberals, to get on the ballot.

Nader took almost 3 million votes, or 2.7 percent, as the Green nominee in 2000. Many Democrats say his strong showing in Florida swung that state, and the presidency, from their candidate Al Gore to Republican George W. Bush and fear he could do the same this year to Democratic candidate John Kerry.

But to play spoiler, Nader has to be on the ballot.

The gem of the Greens’ state ballot lines was California, where Nader received 4 percent of the vote in 2000. As an independent, Nader will have to collect 153,000 signatures by Aug. 6 to get on the ballot, an unlikely feat, Winger said.

Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said the campaign is talking to Natural Law Party officials about using their ballot line in California, but no decision has been made.

In Indiana, were the petition deadline is Wednesday, Nader has less than half of the 29,000 necessary signatures, said Dallas Stoner, Nader’s state coordinator.

Among the chief obstacles, Stoner said, were liberals who said they agreed with Nader but wanted him out of the race so Kerry would have a clear shot at Bush.

“Its been a pretty discouraging experience for me,” Stoner said.

HELP FROM REPUBLICANS

On Saturday, Nader tried for the second time to draw at least 1,000 voters in Portland to get on the Oregon ballot. The rally yielded 1,150 signatures, which leaves little margin for error if some of the signatures are invalidated.

And many of those who signed may have been Republicans hoping to help Bush in a state he lost by less than a percentage point in 2000.

Russ Walker, the Oregon state chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy, an anti-tax group, said about 400 of his members had pledged to go to the Nader event, and said the organization would help Nader get on the ballot in other swing states.

But Zeese said the campaign is troubled less by strange ideological bedfellows than by what he says are intimidation tactics by allies on the left.

Nader submitted sufficient signatures to get on the ballot in Arizona, but the state Democratic party is challenging the validity of the signatures and charging some of the petition gatherers were convicted felons and nonresidents .

“Nader is being used as a tool of the Republican Party and we’re seeing some shenanigans to put Nader on the ballot,” said Sarah Rosen, spokeswoman for the Arizona Democratic Party.

Zeese dismissed the challenge as “the Democratic Party’s anti-democratic approach to keep voters from having choices.”

Nader is also involved in legal wrangling in Texas. He submitted enough signatures, but missed the deadline. Nader is challenging the law in court.

Nader did win the Reform Party endorsement, which carries seven state ballot lines, including swing states Michigan and Florida.

With ballot deadlines in most states looming in the next two months, money to pay petition gatherers, who charge between 85 cents and $3 per signature, could make the difference, Winger said.

Nader has raised about $1 million thus far, and is slated to receive $400,000 in federal matching funds, Zeese said.

Copyright © 2003 Reuters Limited.

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