Oct. 4, 2004
President Bush's lead in the polls may be shrinking, but another obstacle to John Kerry's chances of winning the White House is not: Ralph Nader. The erstwhile champion of consumer rights turned festering thorn in the Democrats' side has managed to get on the ballot as a third-party candidate in 37 states, including Florida, where he won more than 97,000 votes in 2000. Bitter Democrats complain that if the far-left Nader hadn't run that year, Al Gore, who lost by just 537 votes in Florida, would be President today.
Fearing another Nader nightmare in 2004, Democrats have mounted court challenges to his ballot petitions in states across the country. Nader angrily decries the tactic as anti-democratic and illegal, but in most cases it has failed. Which means that in key toss-up states like New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania and, once again, Florida, Nader could siphon from Kerry enough liberal votes to deliver the election to Bush. In the latest TIME poll, Nader draws a surprisingly high 5% of the vote nationally. "Ralph Nader played a spoiler role in the 2000 election, and he could just as easily do it again," complains Jano Cabrera of the Democratic National Committee. Nader says he's running because the Democratic Party is no longer any different from the G.O.P. Both, he says, are beholden to big corporations. He denies reports — confirmed by Republicans themselves — that the G.O.P. has helped fund and support his campaign in the hope of hurting Kerry. And Nader appears to have no regrets about the hard-to-dispute claim that he cost the Democrats the White House four years ago. Asked last week if the country would be better off if Gore had won, the usually dour Nader cracked a smile. "George W. Bush is an easy act to follow, or precede," he said. "Anyone would be a better President." Then he denounced John Kerry and promised to stay in the race until Election Day.