Reform Party Endorsement of Nader Could Land Him on Key State Ballots
The Reform Party endorsed Ralph Nader for president Wednesday, providing the independent candidate a potential shortcut onto the ballot in the contested states of Florida, Michigan and Colorado.
Nader has yet to decide whether to run in those and four other states as the nominee of the party Ross Perot founded in the 1990s. But the endorsement gives him that option.
Nader has not yet qualified for the ballot in any state, but the Reform Party decision drew renewed attention to his possible effect on the race between President Bush and his presumed Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.
Democrats widely blame Nader for the narrow loss of the party’s 2000 nominee, Al Gore. This year, Democrats fear that Nader -- who is positioning himself as a “peace candidate” to court voters who oppose the Iraq war -- could siphon crucial support from Kerry’s left flank.
“Unless [Nader] wants his legacy to be one of a spoiler who helped place George W. Bush in office for two terms, we would urge that he drop out of the race before November,” said Jano Cabrera, spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.
Nader contends that his candidacy appeals to voters on the right and the left. As evidence, he pointed to backing by a party whose 2000 presidential nominee was conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan.
“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.
Nader spoke to Reform Party leaders for about 20 minutes late Monday in a conference call to seek their endorsement. A party leadership committee held another conference call late Tuesday to deliberate. Early Wednesday, Nader won the endorsement on the third ballot, with 28 votes from the 37 leaders on the call, party chairman Shawn O’Hara said.
O’Hara, a Mississippi resident, said in a statement: “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.”
Although Reform Party officials claim at least 1 million followers, its national influence in recent years has been minimal. But it retains some clout because of the presidential ballot lines it holds in Florida, Michigan and Colorado.
Those states, with a combined 53 electoral votes, have been targeted by both the Bush and Kerry campaigns. The Reform Party also has ballot lines in Kansas, Montana, Mississippi and South Carolina; Bush is strongly favored in each.
Control of ballot lines is a major issue for third parties and independent candidates who must navigate a wildly varying set of state access laws to mount a broad challenge to the two-party system. Nader this week sued to get onto the ballot in Texas, for example, after missing a petition deadline there.
The Reform Party was started by Perot in his run for the White House in 1996. The Texas billionaire, who ran as an independent in 1992, offered himself as a fiscal conservative and good-government advocate who would clean house in Washington.
He drew millions of votes in both of his campaigns. Many Republicans think his strong showing in 1992 helped deny Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush, a second term.
A high point for the Reform Party came when it helped elect Jesse Ventura governor of Minnesota in 1998. But the party fractured in 2000 over Buchanan’s presidential candidacy.
That year, Nader was the Green Party nominee and qualified for the ballot in 43 states and the District of Columbia. This year, Nader has said he is not interested in the Green nomination -- but he is quietly seeking the party’s endorsement. Green Party members are scheduled to decide that matter at a convention in June in Milwaukee.
Charles Cook, a nonpartisan political analyst in Washington, predicted Nader would not attain the 2.7% of the popular vote he drew in 2000 but still could be a significant factor in November’s outcome.
“The closer this race is, going into the fall, the more it reduces the Nader vote,” Cook said. “This time, people are prepared for it.”
Even so, Cook said, “If this race is as close as I expect it to be, Nader could get a half, or a third or a fifth of the vote he got last time and be decisive again, as he was in Florida.”
In 2000, Nader pulled about 97,000 votes in Florida, a state Bush won by a mere 537.
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The Nader factor
The Reform Party’s endorsement Wednesday of Ralph Nader for president could give him ballot access in seven states where, if he chooses, he can be the party’s candidate. Here are the 2000 election results in those states:
2000 election results in states where the Reform Party is on the ballot:
Colorado: 9 electoral votes
George W. Bush (R) 50.8%
Al Gore (D) 42.4
Ralph Nader (G) 5.3
South Carolina: 8
Sources: U.S. Election Atlas, Federal Election Commission