Sunday, October 15, 2000

Nader could be factor in Ohio

'He could do just enough to make a difference'

By Patrick Crowley and Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Ralph Nader made his name by taking on corporations and battling Washington during the protest era of the 1960s and 1970s. The question this year: Will his attacks on George W. Bush and Al Gore throw the presidential campaign off balance?

        Polls show Mr. Nader at single digits nationwide, anywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent. In Ohio and Kentucky, polls place Mr. Nader at 4 percent.

        Analysts disagree whether the Green Party candidate will make a difference in battleground states such as Ohio, where 21 electoral votes are up for grabs.

        "He could do just enough to make a difference in a place like Ohio,” said University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato.

        “In many places, he and the other third-party candidates are pretty much non-factors,” Mr. Sabato said. “But if we have a race like in 1960, where the margin of victory will be paper thin, Nader becomes important in the overall equation.”

        Eric Rademacher, director of the Ohio Poll, said that unless Mr. Nader's support in Ohio spikes up considerably in the final weeks of the campaign, he won't have much of an impact.

        “Nader is taking slightly more from Gore than he is from Bush,” Mr. Rademacher said. “But when you factor in all the minor party candidates, Gore and Bush are basically losing the same amount of votes.

        “If Ralph Nader were the only other candidate in the race, he could cost Gore the election,” Mr. Rademacher said. “But he's not.”

        The most recent Ohio Poll has Mr. Bush ahead of Mr. Gore, 47 percent to 43 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 points.

        Mr. Nader shares the ballot in Ohio and Kentucky with Pat Buchanan of the Reform Party; Libertarian Harry Browne; John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party, and Howard Phillips of the Constitution Party.

        Mr. Buchanan and Mr. Browne are polling about 1 percent each.

        Kentucky Democrats aren't expecting Mr. Nader to damage Mr. Gore on election day.

        “Ralph Nader hasn't polled well and we're not worried about him,” said Jonathan Beeton, spokesman for Mr. Gore's Kentucky campaign.

        Mr. Nader's populist, quixotic campaign has a definite retro feel, taking place in a political environment many young people disdain for the lack of idealism and passion in the Democratic and Republican candidates.

        Case in point: During a campaign appearance last week at Louisville's Clifton Center, a crowd of mostly college-age students was entertained by an acoustic guitarist belting out folk and protest songs as they awaited Mr. Nader's arrival.

        Campaign contributions, in some cases just a dollar or two, were tossed into paper bags being passed through aisles.

        When the music stopped, Mr. Nader strolled across the stage to a standing ovation and an ear-splitting cheer.

        “This campaign is designed to bring the people of this country into the sovereignty of America,” Mr. Nader said to the overflow crowd of more than 400. “What good is hope without power?”

        Mr. Nader, 66, dismisses questions about being a spoiler. The question, he said, misses the point of his candidacy, which is to build a future for the ideals of the Green Party.

        Nonetheless, many plan to cast a ballot for Mr. Nader this year.

        “Ralph Nader is the only candidate talking about the issues the other candidates won't touch, like corporate greed,” said Joshua Croll, 26, of Louisville. “Voting for Ralph Nader is not just a political statement, it's a personal statement, because to me it's an honest vote.”

        The Ohio Poll showed Mr. Nader doing best among voters age 18 to 29, those with a household income less than $20,000 a year, and among voters who describe themselves as liberals.

        Third-party candidates have shown they can have a powerful influence in a presidential campaign.

        Reform Party founder Ross Perot garnered 19 percent of the vote in 1992, taking support from Republican President George Bush and helping Bill Clinton win the presidency.

        But Mr. Buchanan, who won a bruising battle to take the Reform Party nomination and $12 million in federal financing, isn't making much headway this year.

        “Buchanan is a complete non-factor,” Mr. Sabato said. “He's not even showing up in some polls. He's irrelevant.”

        Republican leaders in Kentucky are not concerned about Mr. Buchanan cutting into the lead built by Mr. Bush, who was up 10 points in the most recent statewide poll.

        “Kentucky Republicans made their choice in the primary when they nominated George W. Bush,” said Damon Thayer, vice chairman of the Kentucky GOP and a member of the Bush campaign in Kentucky.

        Democratic consultant Bob Doyle of Washington, who does work for U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, D-Kentucky, said the overall effect of third-party candidates in this year's presidential race will be “negligible.”

        But Mr. Doyle says Mr. Nader could pick up liberal Democratic votes that could make the difference in states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Oregon and Washington, where the race is close.

        In Ohio, the Nader 2000 organization has been most visible on college campuses, but a network of Green Party members is carrying out a grass-roots campaign in most of the state's urban areas.

        In Cincinnati, it is headed by Gwen Marshall, a long-time environmental activist and substitute teacher, who is running a campaign with several dozen unpaid volunteers out of her Hartwell apartment.

        The local Green Party organization is planning a campaign event to follow Mr. Nader's scheduled evening speech at the University of Cincinnati's Zimmer Auditorium on Oct. 26.

        The Nader volunteers, many of them high school and college students, are being fanned out around the area on the weekend to distribute literature at high-traffic locations, Ms. Marshall said.

        “It is a shoestring operation,” Ms. Marshall said. “There is nothing high-powered about this. It is strictly grass-roots stuff.”

        The Green Party is targeting young voters, with 800 organizers on 1,000 college campuses across the country. Fifty-three “Greens,” as they call themselves, are running for Congress this year, though there are no Green U.S. House candidates in Ohio and only one — Ken Sain of Covington — in Kentucky.

        Mr. Sain is running in the 4th District race against Mr. Lucas, the incumbent, Oldham County Republican Don Bell and Libertarian Alan Handleman of Carter County.

        Mr. Nader said he is attracting voters “interested in public financing of campaigns, environmental consumer protection, affordable health insurance and labor laws that let tens of millions of low-paid workers form trade unions to raise their standard of living.”

        He wants to build the Green Party into a kind of political watchdog that protects consumers by taking corporate donations out of politics, an extension of the work he started in the mid 1960s when he took on the auto industry for building unsafe cars.

        Mr. Nader acknowledges winning will be difficult, but he has a larger goal in mind.

        He seeks to establish a new party while arguing that because of the flow of corporate money into politics Democrats and Republicans are more concerned about their donors than consumers and voters.

        “The purpose of this campaign is to build a new majority political party,” he said.

        “A new majority political party won't be built in a day any more than Rome was built in a day,” he said. “But it will come out of November when millions of voters support the Green Party ... to build the party to the next stage of running in more elections across the country.”

        If Mr. Nader can attract 5 percent of the vote on Election Day, the Green Party will receive up to $12 million in federal money for future political candidacies.


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