Oct. 26, 2000 -- Ralph Nader, unswayed by mounting criticism he could harm Al Gore’s presidential hopes, continues to launch sharp attacks on the Democratic candidate.
Speaking at a press conference in Washington on Wednesday, Nader blasted Gore’s record on a series of environmental issues, concluding, “The best case Al Gore has made for being an environmentalist in the campaign is that he is not George W. Bush.”
And the Green Party nominee indicated he was unruffled by the attention now being given his candidacy by Gore and other prominent Democrats.
“We welcome the new and enhanced attention that the Democratic Party has been paying to the Green Party,” Nader said. “That just informs more voters.”
Nader also shrugged off suggestions that he was siphoning away voters who would otherwise cast Democratic votes. A television ad currently airing on behalf of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League says, “voting for Ralph Nader helps elect George W. Bush.”
“We’re drawing from the Ross Perot voters, the independent voters, and people who have never voted before,” Nader added.
At a press conference in Cleveland today, Nader also denied that Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan had asked him to leave the presidential race, contrary to a published report. Nader said Conyers had asked if he would consider meeting with Gore, an offer Nader says he declined.
Democratic Ticket Raps Ralph
Asked today about the effect Nader is having on his candidacy, Gore said, “I don’t like the argument that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. It may be true, but my argument that I much prefer is I want to convince all of the voters to support me with enthusiasm.”
Speaking on ABC’s Good Morning America today, the vice president added, “I’m speaking directly to those who might support him or to those who might support George Bush, and I’m asking them to support the approach that I am recommending … I’m not going to ask people to vote against somebody.”
Later today Gore did implore voters not to vote for Nader, telling tens of thousands in the Green Party enclave of Madison, Wis., that a vote for Nader plays into the hands of corporate forces backing Republican George W. Bush.
“If the big oil companies and the chemical manufacturers and the other big polluters were able to communicate a message to this state, they would say vote for George Bush or, in any case, vote for Ralph Nader,” Gore bellowed. “They would say whatever you do, don’t vote for Al Gore!”
Gore, earlier on ABC, also defended his environmental record, saying “Where issues like the environment are concerned, I’ll put my record up against anybody’s.”
But Gore’s running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, took Nader to task Wednesday precisely because of the effect the Green Party contender is having on the election.
“A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush,” Lieberman said in a television interview.
Citing environmental issues, consumer protection, and campaign-finance reform, Lieberman added, “Al Gore and I are clearly much closer to Ralph Nader than George Bush is, so I don’t think people should throw away their vote or even worse, help elect somebody that is diametrically opposed to what they are for.”
But Gov. Jesse Ventura of Minnesota, the most prominent third-party candidate in the 1998 election, defended Nader on Wednesday against the charge that his supporters would be voting for a lost cause.
“Wasting your vote is not voting your heart and not voting your conscience,” Ventura said on ABC’s Good Morning America. “That’s a wasted vote.”
And Nader claimed Wednesday that Gore should not point fingers if he loses in November, joking “As David Letterman said, ‘Only Al Gore can beat Al Gore.’ And he’s doing a pretty good job of it.”
Making His Mark
The Green Party candidate is a distant third in the polls. But he is making a mark in several key states where Gore needs every vote he can get to beat Republican candidate George W. Bush.
While Nader has directed his biting criticism at both candidates, he has been most harsh when talking about Gore, who is competing for the same bloc of liberal, environmentally concerned voters.
And despite the increasingly vocal concerns of liberal groups that might otherwise be allied with Nader’s campaign, he is putting up a fight in many of the same states the Gore team needs to win.
In the final two weeks before Election Day, campaign officials say Nader will campaign through Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio — all must-win states where Bush and Gore are running neck and neck.
The longtime consumer advocate and corporate gadfly also plans to campaign in New York, where Gore has been considered a shoo-in, and Colorado, a strong Bush state. Last week, Nader launched his “Don’t Waste Your Vote Tour” of Texas, where Bush is governor, and California, a strong Gore state.
Though the winner of the electoral votes in those four states seems a foregone conclusion, polls show there are sizable percentages of undecided voters who could add some popular vote numbers to Nader’s column.
Even Nader acknowledges he has no realistic chance of winning the race to gather 270 electoral votes, ranged mainly between just 2 percent and 6 percent in national polls. But his eyes are on 2004 when, if he gains just 5 percent of the popular vote this Nov. 7, his party will qualify for federal campaign matching funds.
“We’re going to come out of November with millions of votes and the biggest third party in the country,” Nader recently told reporters.
A host of groups have called on Nader to pull back, from the National Organization for Women to many of the candidate’s former “Nader’s Raiders” — people who worked with Nader over the years to expose faulty consumer products.
NARAL, one of the most prominent abortion rights groups in the nation, says it is spending a half-million dollars initially to air the spot in Portland, Ore.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Madison, Wis. — all areas where Nader is now successfully carving into Gore’s base of support.
Even some high-profile Nader campaign supporters are acknowledging the risk Nader poses to the Gore campaign.
A celebrity-led group of Nader supporters on Wednesday publicly urged support for him in “non-battleground” states of New York, Massachusetts, Colorado, and Texas.
Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Michael Moore and Greg MacArthur, grandson of John D. MacArthur, announced a $320,000 newspaper ad buy urging voters that a “vote for Nader is not a vote for Bush.”
The group was planning to run the ad in California newspapers, but has decided not to.
“I would vote for Nader no matter which state I lived in,” said MacArthur in a conference call with reporters Wednesday. But MacArthur also said the ad was “aimed at a specific target audience which lives in states where there really is no contest. As the vote tightened in California, I simply decided not to run the ad.”
A Los Angeles Times poll released Wednesday shows Gore leading Bush by seven points in California, 48 percent to 41 percent.
Yet the Nader team says it’s unconcerned with the prospect his campaign could influence the race and help Bush win.
“You start off with the assumption that these votes belong to the people and they don’t belong to anybody and you have to go out and earn them. And apparently, Gore and his campaign sound like they’re kind of whining Ralph ought to give them the votes for free,” says Nader press secretary Jake Lewis.
The Nader campaign regularly pokes at a Gore sore spot, accusing the vice president of dishonesty with a daily “Gore’s Broken Promise of the Day” press release. Tuesday’s release charged the Clinton-Gore administration had failed to stop the release of illegal levels of dioxins, furans, and toxic metals into the air by an incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio.
Gore, during a campaign stop there in 1992, called the incinerator, then in construction, “unbelievable,” and had promised to “give you an environmental presidency to deal with these problems,” the release said.
A Focus on the Issues
According to the Nader camp, the campaign Gore is running deserves the blame if he loses votes to the Green Party.
“I think if he [Gore] were better on the issues, he wouldn’t have a problem,” says Lewis.
The Gore folks, reluctant to discuss the Nader challenge, say their candidate has an appealing message on issues that matter to the voters.
“Voters who are concerned about the environment and protecting consumers and freedom of choice will see very clearly that the smart vote on November 7th is for Al Gore,” says Gore National Spokesman Doug Hattaway.
“I think these voters are focused on the issue of using our prosperity to benefit everybody and not just a few and that’s Al Gore’s message,” he says.
ABCNEWS’ Gayle Tzemach, Rebecca Bershadker and Yoruba Richen contributed to this report.