WASHINGTON — Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader won the Reform Party endorsement early today, a development that enables him to claim political kinship with 1990s insurgent Ross Perot and get on the ballot in toss-up states Florida and Michigan.
Whether Nader will actually appear as the Reform candidate next fall in those states and five others where the party has ballot lines is still an open question. But the endorsement, which under party rules is equivalent to a nomination, gives him the option to do so.
The endorsement also underscores Nader's potential impact in a three-way matchup with President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry. Recent polls have shown the independent drawing anywhere from 2 to 7 percentage points. Democrats fear that Nader, who is positioning himself as a "peace candidate" and courting voters who oppose the Iraq war, could siphon crucial support from Kerry's left flank.
Nader contends that his candidacy is drawing voters from the right and the left who oppose Bush. As proof of what he says is his centrist appeal, he touted the endorsement of the party that Perot founded in 1995 to support his presidential bid. Perot, who also ran in 1992, billed himself as a fiscal conservative and good government advocate who would clean house in Washington. He drew millions of votes in both of his runs.
Conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan was the Reform nominee in 2000.
"This endorsement shows that our independent campaign is receiving support from across the political spectrum from people upset with President Bush and looking to shift the power back to the people, so a solution revolution can take hold and solve many of the nagging problems and injustices in our society," Nader said in a statement.
The candidate spoke to party leaders for 20 minutes late Monday in a conference call to appeal for their endorsement, Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said. The party leadership committee met late Tuesday by conference call to deliberate. After midnight, Nader won the endorsement on the third ballot by a vote of 28 to 9, party Chairman Shawn O'Hara said in an interview.
In a statement, O'Hara said: "Ralph Nader has stood up for the rights of American citizens his entire life. He is a man of peace, and with the help of every citizen who did not vote in the primaries, he can win the November presidential election."
Nader ran as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000. He drew enough support in Florida and New Hampshire four years ago to help tip the election to Bush.
This year, he is running as an independent. But he is also seeking the endorsement of the Green Party in a bid to build a coalition. That party is scheduled to hold its convention next month in Milwaukee.
The Reform Party has ballot lines in the states of Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina.