Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader named Green Party activist Peter Camejo as his vice presidential running mate Monday, adding to his ticket a two-time contender for governor in California who once ran for president as a Socialist.
Nader’s selection of Camejo gives further shape to a left-leaning, antiwar campaign many Democrats fear will spoil their effort to unseat President Bush.
It bolstered Nader’s quest to win an endorsement from the Greens at their national convention, which begins Wednesday in Milwaukee. If Nader succeeds, he could win ballot access in 22 states -- including California -- and the District of Columbia.
Camejo also improves Nader’s access to an important constituency. A fluent Spanish speaker of Venezuelan descent, Camejo plans to campaign vigorously for Latino votes coveted by Democrats and Republicans.
For all those reasons, many Democrats were unsettled by the emergence of a Nader-Camejo ticket.
“If there was any question in the minds of Democrats whether or not Ralph Nader could be a factor in the upcoming election, today’s announcement should make that answer crystal clear,” said Tricia Enright, a Democrat who is leading a group seeking to woo Nader supporters to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.
“This should serve as a wake-up call to progressives and Democrats that the stakes are too high,” said Enright, president of TheNaderFactor.com.
Nader, who introduced his running mate at a news conference here, praised Camejo as an activist who fought racial discrimination in the South in the 1960s, rallied for farmworkers and opposed the Vietnam War.
“He’s put his feet in a lot of marches,” Nader said. “He broadens our range. He stands to communicate very well with the Latino community and African American community.”
Camejo, 64, who lives in Folsom, Calif., is chairman of Progressive Asset Management, which specializes in “socially responsible investing.” He served three years as a trustee for the Contra Costa County Employee Retirement Assn.
In 1976, he ran for president as the candidate of the Socialist Workers Party and collected about 90,000 votes nationwide. He did better in 2002 as the Green Party nominee for governor of California, winning about 393,000 votes statewide, or 5.3%.
Last year, he offered himself as a replacement for California Gov. Gray Davis in the recall election won by Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Camejo debated Schwarzenegger and other candidates on television, gaining exposure as an advocate for the Green platform, which aims to tax the rich, ease the burden for the average worker, develop renewable energy and give marriage rights to gays and lesbians. He won 242,000 votes, or about 2.8%.
On Monday, Camejo joined in Nader’s complaints about the “two-party duopoly.”
He called Kerry “a guy who will come in and set it up for the Bushes to come back -- because the Democrats never challenge the underlying premises of what the Republicans are doing.”
Camejo said he fervently opposed the Iraq war and the anti-terrorism law known as the Patriot Act, and he noted that Kerry supported both when they came to a vote in the Senate.
On Iraq, “Kerry’s criticisms of Bush are how he’s doing his policy, not what he’s doing,” Camejo said. “He’s not challenging the idea that it was wrong to invade a nation, in violation of international law, on false premises.”
In May, Kerry met face-to-face with Nader at the Massachusetts senator’s headquarters in Washington. Kerry reminded Nader that the two were on the same side of many issues.
Asked Monday for reaction to Nader’s announcement, Kerry campaign spokesman Phil Singer said, “Sen. Kerry’s going to continue talking about making America stronger at home and respected in the world.”
Camejo plans to go to Milwaukee this week to spread Nader’s message at the Green Party convention.
Nader ran for president as the Green Party nominee in 1996 and 2000, taking enough votes away from Democrat Al Gore in key states four years ago to help tip the presidency to Bush. But this time he is keeping the Green Party at arm’s length, as a third-party independent seeking an endorsement, not a nomination.
Some Greens would prefer to nominate California attorney David Cobb for president. As a compromise, Camejo suggests the party endorse Cobb and Nader. Unlike Nader, Cobb has indicated he would try to steer clear of several battleground states where he might draw critical votes away from Kerry.
Camejo was one of the original Green Party members when the organization first registered in 1991. Cobb joined the party in 1996 during Nader’s first presidential run as a Green.
“Peter Camejo is a great Green Party leader, that’s for sure,” Cobb said in response to the Nader-Camejo announcement. But he declined to speculate on what effect the new ticket would have on the Green Party convention.
So far, Nader has access to seven state ballots through the Reform Party, though he has not decided whether to use that option. Those states include Florida, Michigan and Colorado, all sharply contested by Kerry and Bush. Nader has also submitted petitions to get on the ballot directly in Texas and Arizona, and was expected to do so Monday in Illinois.
Anderson reported from Washington, Rosenblatt from Los Angeles