With a year to Election Day, Ralph Nader is quietly gearing up for his second serious bid for the presidency. Though he has been telling reporters that he won’t make a decision about running until the end of the year, any day now he will announce the formation of a presidential exploratory committee, which will allow him to start raising money and hiring staff. A final decision to go ahead full throttle will probably wait until the winnowing of the Democratic primary field starts in February, as Nader genuinely likes progressive Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich and has been supporting his underdog presidential bid.
In a recent interview, Nader rejected any suggestion that a 2004 run would be hobbled by the legacy of 2000, a startlingly stubborn assertion given how many people, including Democratic Party leaders, grassroots activists, labor and environmental honchos, and liberal pundits, blame him for costing Al Gore the election. He insists that voters he meets rarely raise the issue. In response, he tells people to read Jeffrey Toobin’s Too Close to Call, which demonstrates in precise detail how Gore and his top advisers made a series of dumb and defeatist choices during the Florida recount showdown, spoiling their chances for a full and accurate vote tally.
With a combination of irritation and amusement, Nader has watched Howard Dean adopt the style, if not the substance, of his 2000 campaign, no doubt aware that a Dean nomination would seriously hamper his ability to gain traction next spring and summer. While he recognizes that many Dean supporters may well have been Naderites in 2000, he calls Dean a “middle of the road” Democrat too friendly to corporate demands, and dismisses progressive enthusiasm for Dean’s candidacy with this metaphor: “Everybody is starved. If you have a garden and if it rains, you’re not excited, but if you’re in the desert and it rains, you’re delirious. But you know what rain in the desert produces? A mirage.” Repeating an old refrain, he says it doesn’t even matter if Dean is for real: “He can’t deliver–he can be George McGovern on steroids, but when he gets into the corporate prison called the White House, he can’t deliver.”
Given how Nader talks about the “corporate Democrats” and their failure to fight President Bush on everything from tax cuts and the Patriot Act to Enron and the Iraq war, the die seems cast for a rerun of his 2000 campaign–except for one critical wrinkle. This time, there’s real opposition to his running coming from within the Green Party, and the prospect of an internal primary battle that may hinder or conceivably block Nader from receiving the party’s nomination or push him into running as an independent.
“I don’t think Ralph Nader should run again,” says Elizabeth Horton Sheff, one of the party’s slowly increasing number of African-American elected officials. Sheff, the majority leader of the Hartford, Connecticut, city council, adds, “Our message of grassroots inclusion did not get through with this candidate. His appeal is not broad enough to reach my community.” (Indeed, Nader only got 1 percent of the African-American vote in 2000, compared with his 3 percent overall. Even in Democratic strongholds like Washington, DC, where Nader reached 5 percent, he only got one in one hundred black votes.) Arguing that Nader reaches mainly progressive and middle-class whites, Sheff insists that the party doesn’t even need a presidential candidate, concluding, “We should run someone only if they have a proven track record appealing to a cross section of America.”