Nader's candidacy gets some cheers, but more groans

Many see it as folly for him to enter the presidential race one more time.

Alex Wong/Meet the Press/Reuters
Third-party candidate: Nader announced his candidacy Sunday.

Jon Hunt is an unapologetic supporter of Ralph Nader.

The young social activist organized for the corporate raider in North Carolina in 2000 and voted for him as a write-in candidate in 2004.

This November, Mr. Hunt is 99 percent sure he'll vote for him again. "I don't see myself voting for the Democrat or the Republican," says Hunt, who now lives in Virginia. "Nader's views are more in line with mine than any other candidate – the idea that there's excess corporate control that needs to be reined in."

Mr. Nader's announcement over the weekend that he's throwing his hat in the presidential ring again elicited groans from Democrats, grins from some Republicans, and a general sense of dismay among many political pundits. But the Naderites like Hunt are adamant that it's important to send a message about the corporate corruption of the political system – regardless of the political cost to one party or the other.

Even with such strong views, however, the number of Nader supporters has been dwindling, and few analysts believe they'll have much impact on the 2008 race. Nader got 2.7 percent of the vote in 2000, the analysts note, and only 0.37 percent in 2004 – less than half a percent.

"It would take a real fluke for him to make any difference this time around," says Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "Remember, there could be a conservative independent – maybe more than one. Who knows?"

Many Democrats are still smarting from 2000, when they blamed Nader for taking enough votes away from Al Gore to give the race to George W. Bush. Many political analysts agree with that assessment. But Nader steadfastly denies it, saying that Gore and the Democrats are responsible for their own loss because they couldn't motivate voters.

Hunt, too, subscribes to this view. "It's not because people voted for Nader that Al Gore lost. It's that people didn't vote for Al Gore because they didn't see him offering much," he says.

Some political analysts argue that such thinking denies political reality.

"It's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,' " says Douglas Muzzio, a political analyst at Baruch College in New York. "It's utter nonsense."

Indeed, Nader's run in 2000 ended up costing him votes four years later. David, a real estate investor in Portland, Ore., who asked to withhold his last name for personal reasons, says he believed in Nader and his work as a consumer rights activist. But that changed after 2000. Now, David blames him for ushering in "one of the worst eras" in American history.

He even wonders if Nader might have struck a secret deal with the Republicans. "A smart man wouldn't have done what he did, and I think Ralph Nader is a very smart man," says David, a lifelong Republican who strongly disapproves of the Bush presidency.

But many of Nader's supporters are remaining loyal. Hunt, for one, still believes that the mainstream political parties are failing to offer any real choice – despite their differing views on the war in Iraq, taxes, the economy, and healthcare.

"It doesn't matter to me which party gets in. I don't see the Democrats as a better answer to the Republicans," he says.

In announcing his candidacy Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," Nader made it clear he understands that many "with closed minds" may not find his run "palatable." So he tried to put it in context.

"Twenty-four percent of the people are satisfied with the state of the country, according to Gallup. That's about the lowest ranking ever. Sixty-one percent think both major parties are failing," he said. "You have to ask yourself as a citizen, Should we elaborate on the issues that the two [parties] are not elaborating [on]?"

But despite Nader's effectiveness early on in his career as a consumer advocate, he hasn't fared well at the ballot box, political analysts note. And that's prompted many to ask why he's running again.

"What's the definition of insanity?" says Todd Gitlin, a political analyst at Columbia University in New York. "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?"

Tom A. Peter contributed to this report.

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