2.24.2008

Ralph Nader jumps in the presidential race, pressing issue of ballot access

On NBC's Meet the Press this morning, Ralph Nader announced he was jumping in the presidential race for the third straight election, the first important third-party candidate to definitely announce a run this year.

Nader explained that there certainly were differences between McCain and Obama, but that there were too many issues that both parties were leaving off the table:

You take that framework of people feeling locked out, shut, shut out, marginalized, disrespected and you go from Iraq to Palestine/Israel, from Enron to Wall Street, from Katrina to the bungling of the Bush administration, to the complicity of the Democrats in not stopping him on the war, stopping him on the tax cuts, getting a decent energy bill through, and you have to ask yourself, as a citizen, should we elaborate the issues that the two are not talking about?

Nader went on to outline some of the issues he is referring to: a single-payer health care system (which neither Obama nor Clinton favors), wasteful Pentagon spending, and labor law, including "repealing the notorious Taft-Hartley Act." And he went after Obama on the issue of Israel and Palestine. After claiming "He was pro-Palestinian when he was in Illinois before he ran for the state Senate, during he ran--during the state Senate," Nader continued, "Now he's, he's supporting the Israeli destruction of the tiny section called Gaza with a million and a half people. He doesn't have any sympathy for a civilian death ratio of about 300-to-1." Nader explained that "[Obama's] better instincts have been censored, I think, by himself."

The issue Nader appears to want to press the most strongly is ballot access. Explaining that "dissent is the mother of ascent," Nader noted that, "One feels an obligation, Tim, to try to open the doorways, to try to get better ballot access, to respect dissent in America in the terms of third parties and, and independent candidates."

The next few months will probably go a long way towards demonstrating Nader's point on ballot access, if 2008 is anything like 2004. That year, Nader's efforts to get on the ballot
led to massive Democratic efforts to thwart his petition drive and significant Republican efforts to provide him enough signatures to get him on the ballot. The controversy was particularly heated in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania. Democrats will surely go after Nader in a similar way this time around, just as they probably would have in 2000 had they realized how close the election would be.

Nader's 2000 and 2004 campaigns ended up being very different. In 2000, the Green Party candidate got 2.7%, after flirting with the 5% mark in some polls. Since his number of votes was greater than Bush-Gore margin in Florida, many Democrats blamed him for Bush's election -- though it does seem paradoxical to me to blame a candidate who got 1.6% of the vote. Nader responds that Al Gore ran a weak campaign that failed to draw clear contrasts and that did not motivate the Democratic base (it's hard to argue with the latter criticism at least). In 2004, Nader jumped in again but failed on the ballot in many states, drawing in 0.3% of the vote.

The dynamics this time are likely to be similar to 2004, and Nader is likely to fail to get in many state ballots with Democrats throwing procedural obstacles on his way. However, it is worth noting that all actors -- including Nader and the GOP -- will be more prepared this time around. The Dems will likely use even more powerful obstacles, Nader will be better prepared to overcome them, and Republicans will know what means would be the most useful to help Nader get on the ballot.

Thus, Nader's candidacy will drain everyone's energy, but will probably not change the results come November. With the awareness many Democrats have of how close an election can be at this point, most of Nader's supporters now are voters who would not support a Democrat even without Nader on the ballot. Not to mention that the odds of the election being as close as Florida in the foreseeable future are so low that Nader's low single-digits total are very unlikely to sway the results.

Nader offered another reason for why he will not be a spoiler for Democrats: "If the Democrats can’t landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just pack up, close down, and re-emerge in a different form." This argument actually could prove more worrisome to Dems than anything else: If this indeed shapes to be a Democratic year and the Dem nominee emerges with a lead over McCain, it could be the reassurance many left-leaning voters need to go back to Nader.

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