Duking It Out in the Naderhood
Early on, the Nader campaign had to face a strategic choice: Build a "rainbow," or at least a "blue-green" coalition, or go a more independent/populist route. Underresourced and understaffed, the Nader campaign chose the first option, basing much of its work on politically friendly college campuses. Less outreach was extended to more mainstream, less ideological, but equally disaffected groups. Nader campaign officials insist, however, that the disaffected Nader voters are out there and will come through for their candidate. Says Dan Johnson-Weinberger, the Nader staffer tasked with outreach to independent voters, "Across the country we are getting a broader base of support--more middle-aged, ex-urban, suburban types who maybe don't agree with Ralph on universal healthcare but distrust the major parties, hate things like NAFTA and trust us because they know Nader is better on political reform than Gore."
All of which brings us to the second question: Out of whose hide is Nader's Northwestern vote--whatever its ultimate size--coming? The Democrats insist the Nader vote is a direct drain on Gore and that any vote for the Greens is one more for Bush. "Nader's approach is reprehensible, irresponsible and reckless," says Neel Pender, executive director of the Democratic Party of Oregon. "We have to get out the message that Nader could elect a Bush administration."
Johnson-Weinberger scoffs at the assertion. "It's true that when we peaked right before the Democratic National Convention in August we had a lot of support from liberal and progressive Democrats," he says. "But we dropped in the polls precisely because after the DNC so many liberal Democrats were ready to shack up one more time with a disappointing candidate. Those folks are gone now." Allan Hoffenblum, a West Coast GOP consultant, arrives at a like conclusion. "The Nader vote isn't going to help Bush at all," he says. "Al Gore, beginning with his populist speech at the convention, has been masterful in bringing the liberals who were leaning toward Nader back into the fold. And such a tight race right down to the end means that trend will continue."
Numerous polls, both regional and national, bolster the notion that Nader has less of an effect on Democrats than might be assumed. A recent Evans/McDonough poll for Seattle's KING-TV revealed that in that state only 40 percent of likely Nader voters are Democrats. Another 40 percent are independents. And 20 percent are Republicans. A recent tracking poll conducted by Zogby International for Reuters/MSNBC between September 29 and October 3 showed Nader drawing a decreasing amount of his support--from 35 percent earlier to 25 percent now--from Democrats, an increasing amount--from 40 percent earlier to 50 percent now--from self-defined "independents" and a more or less steady 20 percent from Republicans.
It also seems that the most committed Nader supporters have reached a point where they are so willing to see Al Gore defeated that it's nearly impossible to imagine them voting for the Vice President in any last-minute bout with lesser-of-two-evilism. Says Joe Keating, issues coordinator of the Oregon Wildlife Federation, "We are comfortable with the possibility of Bush winning because of us. It's a threshold we have to cross someday if we ever want substantial change and want to flex our muscles and show that the environmental movement can decide an election." He adds, "If Bush wins because of us, you can bet the Democrats will be scurrying afterward to redefine their links to the environmental movement. The cost of that is totally acceptable."
The Bush campaign, meanwhile, is making a full-court press to snatch these two states. Some $3 million in pro-Bush TV ads has soaked the Seattle and Portland markets. And the Bush/Cheney team has made a half-dozen campaign swings through the region. Both states feature a relatively liberal and urbanized West Coast and a very conservative rural eastern area. The Bush strategy is to squeeze Gore by simultaneously making an anti-environmental pitch to rural voters while trying to peel off as many votes as possible in the more moderate suburbs.
Bush balanced both pitches in one four-hour period during a recent Northwest foray. Speaking to a stage-managed "town hall" gathering in the high-tech Portland suburb of Beaverton, he carefully honed his talk to appeal to voters who were just as likely to go with the Democrats. He slammed the Clinton/Gore Administration for overseeing what he called an "education recession" but, eschewing a favorite GOP punching bag, uttered not a single disparaging word about teachers' unions. "You can't pay a good teacher enough money," Bush said to loud applause. And what about vouchers? The word simply never came up. Asked about the environment during a question period, Bush answered, "You don't have to subscribe to Al Gore's philosophy to care about clean air and water."
But a scant two hours later, the same George W. Bush was rallying a crowd a few hundred miles north at the Spokane airport, and he was, frankly, talking way out of the other side of his mouth. One of the hottest Northwestern issues this campaign season is what to do about four dams on the Snake River, which cuts through Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Environmentalists and Nader have called for them to be breached to give a highly endangered species of native salmon a better chance of survival. Gore has waffled, saying that while he would not let the salmon become extinct, he would first call a "summit" of environmentalists, landowners and industry representatives. Bush, however, was unequivocal. Telling the crowd that he felt a kinship for them as "hard-working, God-fearing, family-raising families," he vowed that "if George W. Bush becomes President, the dams will not be breached."