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Bid to push Nader out

The anybody-but-Bush crowd thrusts; the candidate parries.

By Sara TerryCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 23, 2004



Jason Salzman still remembers how he felt about the Democrats and Vice President Al Gore in 2000. "I was at the end of my rope with the Democratic Party," says the Denver-based public relations consultant.

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Despite objections from family, friends, and colleagues, he cast a vote for Ralph Nader, his first for a third-party candidate. Even after the Florida election fiasco, Mr. Salzman still felt he'd done the right thing, and proudly plastered an "Unrepentant Nader Voter" bumper sticker on his car.

But after two years with President Bush in office - and what Salzman saw as increasing evidence of the president's "extremism" - he began feeling a few twinges of regret. When the bombs began to fall on Baghdad last year his twinges become full-fledged remorse.

"The day that happened," he says, "I took a razor blade and excised the "un" from the unrepentant sticker on my car. It was a liberating act of self-correction, and now I think all Nader voters should experience it."

Salzman is serious; in fact, last summer he started one of the first of a small but growing group of Internet campaigns to swing voters away from Nader (www.repentantnadervoter.com). And this month he started a political action committee that will allow him to raise money to support his efforts to get former Nader voters to vote Democrat in 2004. "We [still] love Ralph Nader," he says. "But Bush has turned out to be so extreme it's not worth the risk to vote for Nader again."

Other Internet-based anti-Nader campaigns include StopNader.com, Ralph-Nader.info, Don'tVoteRalph.net, and GreensforKerry.com. Some sites, like Salzman's, are grass-roots efforts. But others are run by Democratic Party faithfuls, including TheNaderFactor.com, which was started last month by Tricia Enright, whose campaign credits include Gov. Howard Dean's recent bid and Al Gore's 2000 run, and by two top aides from Gen. Wesley Clark's short-lived presidential campaign.

What all the groups have in common is the fear that in another close election, Nader (who announced his pick for vice president this week) could once again play a decisive role as a third-party candidate in crucial swing states - much as he did in Florida in 2000, where he won some 97,000 votes as Mr. Gore lost the state by less than 600 votes.

"I think Nader is scaring the bejeebies out of the Democrats," says Stu Rothenberg, editor of the Rothenberg Political Report, a newsletter. "They have nightmares of 2000 all over again."

The result is an unusual political scenario, in which there is an organized effort to stop a third-party candidate - something never confronted by Ross Perot, who started the Reform Party in 1992 and won nearly 20 percent of the vote in that year's presidential race.

What's different in Nader's case, say experts, is the unique circumstances of the 2000 race - which was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court - and the very changed, and politically charged, political landscape of 2004, which has filled many Democrats with an almost missionary "anybody but Bush" zeal.

Many prominent "progressives" who supported Nader in 2000, including documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and Ben and Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen, won't be supporting Nader this time. Even The Nation magazine, which has had a long relationship with the anticorporate crusader, editorialized against him running.

For his part, Nader is undaunted. "A lot of liberals have abandoned us," he acknowledged in a recent phone interview. "And it will be hard to get them back. They've reached a point of desperation where their expectation level is even lower. That's too bad.

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