Kerry Woos Nader, Who Deems Him 'Very Presidential'
Published: May 20, 2004 New York Times
WASHINGTON, May 19 — Faced with growing concerns about Ralph Nader's potential to siphon off Democratic votes, John Kerry began a forceful but delicate effort on Wednesday to win over the man whose candidacy caused so much trouble for the Democratic nominee four years ago.
Mr. Kerry did not ask him to abandon the race, and Mr. Nader showed no signs of bowing out. But Mr. Kerry's wooing did seem to be having the desired effect already. In an interview immediately after what participants called a very friendly one-hour meeting at Mr. Kerry's headquarters, Mr. Nader called Mr. Kerry "very presidential," fondly recalled his antiwar leadership in the 1970's, praised his skills as a politician and quite favorably compared Mr. Kerry to Vice President Al Gore.
Mr. Nader, whose campaign most likely cost Mr. Gore victories in two states in 2000 and who many Democrats fear could similarly help sink Mr. Kerry by eroding his support on the left, let Mr. Kerry know in the meeting that he would be attacking President Bush, primarily, rather than trying to hold Mr. Kerry's feet to the fire.
"He made more the point that he had the ability to go after Bush in ways that we could not," said a Kerry aide who attended the meeting but refused to be quoted by name. "He did not at all say to Kerry, `I'm here to make you better on things.' That was not his tone at all."
For Mr. Nader, this represents a decidedly different strategy from the one he pursued in 2000 against Mr. Gore, whom he often ridiculed as symbolizing the corporatization that he said made the Democratic Party indistinguishable on many issues from the Republican Party.
Mr. Nader acknowledged as much afterward. The difference between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Gore "is the difference between a spruce tree and petrified wood," Mr. Nader said.
"Gore was petrified wood," he said. "He was stiff as a board, he didn't want to have these kinds of meetings. He didn't want to have meetings like this when he was vice president three years before the election. Kerry is much more open."
Mr. Kerry did not directly ask Mr. Nader to withdraw from the race, people at the meeting said. Mr. Nader said in the interview that Mr. Kerry had hinted at that idea in a telephone conversation several months ago but steered clear of the subject this time.
"He said something like, `We all have to do what we have to do,' and he's not challenging anybody's right," Mr. Nader said. "In that sense he's way ahead of his advisers."
Mr. Kerry was not available to answer reporters' questions about the meeting.
Mr. Nader then said he was alluding not just to Mr. Kerry's aides but to a new allied Democratic group, announced on Wednesday, called the National Progress Fund, whose stated purpose is to entice Mr. Nader's supporters into the party by promising to help push many of their issues throughout the campaign.
On its Web site, www.theNader Factor.com, the group asserts that Mr. Nader's candidacy in 2000 ultimately undercut his causes by contributing to the election of Mr. Bush. The group stops short of asking visitors to support Mr. Kerry.
A Kerry adviser said that the senator fully expects Mr. Nader to remain in the race and thus sees no point in trying to push him from it. Rather, the adviser said that Mr. Kerry expects Mr. Nader's support to fade significantly as the campaign winds down but that he does not wish to alienate either Mr. Nader or his supporters along the way.
The two men each brought two aides to the meeting: Mary Beth Cahill and Steve Elmendorf, the Kerry campaign manager and her deputy; and Teresa Amato and Kevin Zeese, the Nader campaign manager and its spokesman.
The aides said little, while the principals, seated next to each other around a conference table, covered several issues important to Mr. Nader: eliminating the kinds of tax breaks and legal protections that he calls "corporate welfare," strengthening union organizing rights and cracking down on corporate crime.
There was little talk of their differences, aides to both men said. Their biggest one is on Iraq, where Mr. Nader advocates an American withdrawal and Mr. Kerry believes the United States must not "cut and run."
Mr. Nader said, "He said he had an exit strategy, and that he's going to elaborate it," and added that he had not pressed Mr. Kerry for details.
Mr. Nader said he deliberately steered clear of areas of disagreement and contention. "When you go in looking for common ground, it takes up most of the time, doesn't it?" he said.
Mr. Nader said he did raise with Mr. Kerry his desire to be included in any presidential debates, and said Mr. Kerry was noncommittal.
Mr. Nader had nothing but kind things to say about Mr. Kerry in a chuckle-filled telephone interview after the meeting. He said he and Mr. Kerry had done a little reminiscing. Mr. Nader recalled inviting Mr. Kerry over for a meeting in 1971 after Mr. Kerry gave his searing testimony against the Vietnam War to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And Mr. Kerry recalled urging Mr. Nader to run for president in 1980.
"I've known him a long time," Mr. Nader said. "It's hard not to like a 27-year-old guy who comes back from the war and helps lead the antiwar movement."
Mr. Nader was almost effusive in his praise of Mr. Kerry. "I think he's very presidential," he said. "He has a very confident demeanor. I've noticed it on TV."
Mr. Nader made clear he had watched Mr. Kerry closely during the Democratic primary season. "He's an interesting politician. My sense of him is that the more dynamic the citizenry becomes, the more engaged voters become, the better a candidate he is. Compared to other candidates, who no matter what the citizens do they're in a fixed position."
For example, he added, "when people in town halls applauded him talking about getting tough with corporate power, he responded," by emphasizing the issue more. "Gephardt didn't," Mr. Nader said, referring to Representative Richard A. Gephardt, a Democratic also-ran.
Mr. Nader said what struck him about Mr. Kerry was not so much what he said but "the way he says it," adding: "That's important. You don't want to have someone with a squeaky voice."
Mr. Nader even went so far as to offer Mr. Kerry some campaign feedback, including a jab at Mr. Kerry's top political consultant. "The more he cuts the reins of his advisers, the better he's going to do," Mr. Nader said. "His own instincts are less cautious than Bob Shrum's. And after a while, you should be able to follow your own compass."
Mr. Nader also said he was taken with how at ease Mr. Kerry seemed in the meeting. Mr. Nader "thought he was much more relaxed than his associates."
"That was very visible."
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