Published on Tuesday, May 30, 2000 in the Miami Herald
Nader Uniting The Disenchanted Into An Emerging Political Force
by Maria Recio
BOSTON -- At a rally on Boston Common to protest controversial state educational testing, Ralph Nader, the veteran consumer activist and populist gadfly, elicited lusty cheers from young people.
Surrounded by teenagers after his speech, a perplexed Nader studied a body-pierced, leather-attired young woman with pink hair. ``I hope,'' he said, ``the dye was at least organic.''
Not a bad line from the likely presidential nominee of the Green Party.
Often dismissed as a fringe figure from the past, Nader is uniting disparate factions of the disenchanted into a notable political force. His stance against global corporate power -- he was at the Battle of Seattle, the anti-World Trade Organization demonstrations last fall -- has won him a new generation of admirers, and his emergence as a political leader has given him new cachet.
He has been polling a surprisingly strong 5 percent and higher nationwide since announcing his candidacy for the presidency March 1. That might not sound like much, but because the support comes from independents and otherwise Democrat-leaning voters, it could be enough to tilt the election away from Democrat Al Gore into the hands of Republican George W. Bush.
TIPPING THE BALANCE
Gore must win California, for example, to beat Bush nationwide, according to most political analysts. But Nader is the choice of 9 percent of Golden State voters, according to a recent Zogby Poll. That could tip the balance to Bush.
``Gore has a problem. Most of Nader's votes would come out of Gore's hide,'' said Jack Pitney, a specialist in third parties at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California.
Nader also is strong in Oregon and Washington, two more states that Gore is counting on.
A youthful 66, Nader has been a public figure since he launched the auto-safety movement with the 1965 publication of Unsafe at Any Speed, a book-length exposé of the alleged failings of the Corvair, a small economy car from Chevrolet.
Now his anti-corporate, pro-environment message, coupled with his consumer credentials, is fusing audiences of blue-collar workers and young people into a ``blue-green'' alliance.
During a campaign swing through New England, Nader told a crowd in the ornate state capitol in Providence, R.I.:
``This is a new progressive political movement. Citizens must act when the government gets taken over so that it is of the Exxons, by the General Motors and for the duPonts.''
On May 22, United Autoworkers President Stephen Yokich said his union, disenchanted with both Gore and Bush for backing legislation expanding free trade with China, will look elsewhere.
``We have no choice but to actively explore alternatives to the two major political parties,'' Yokich said.
The Teamsters, who worked with the consumer activist against the China trade bill, are among other unions studying a Nader endorsement.
Nader, who at times seems uncomfortable in the limelight despite more than 30 years in the public eye, said he never thought of running for president until he was approached by the Greens.
He ran in 1996 on the Green Party ticket, but his refusal to campaign actively, or even to join the party, won him few votes in the 21 states and the District of Columbia where the party appeared on the ballot.
``This time is different,'' Nader insists. ``This time I'm really running.''
``I've been watching election campaigns assiduously avoid discussing corporate power,'' Nader said.
``They're just closing down the citizen groups. Who can get anything done in Washington anymore?''
The radical populist already has campaigned in more than 35 states, running through a relentless string of appearances at colleges, union halls and rallies. He has exhorted activists to get the Green Party on the ballot in all 50 states -- a goal he says he will meet.
There is an element of the unknown surrounding the decentralized Green Party, which Nader urges his listeners to join, but which he still refuses to join himself.
Nader has never joined a political party.
``I don't want to get involved in settling internal squabbles,'' Nader said in an interview. ``I'm still an independent.''
Nader is expected to win the presidential nomination from the Association of State Green Parties, known as the Green Party, at a convention June 24-26 in Denver.
He has selected his running mate, Winona LaDuke, a Native American activist and author who also ran with him in 1996.
If Nader can get 5 percent of the popular vote in November -- a level that triggers taxpayer subsidies from the Federal Election Commission -- he will position the Green Party to be a player in future elections.
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald