Published on Monday, June 26, 2000 in the Washington Post
Greens Nominate Nader for a Serious Run
by William Booth
DENVER - Consumer advocate Ralph Nader won the Green Party's presidential nomination today, and he and his supporters vowed to challenge what they decry as the corrupting influence of giant corporations in American life and politics.
Nader promised to take every opportunity to cajole, nag and insist that the Democrats and Republicans allow the Green and Reform Party candidates to participate in the national debates this fall.
How little money? Nader has raised about $1 million and thinks he can gather about $5 million. But at the Green convention here, Nader's California campaign director, Ross Mirkarimi, took the stage and sought donations from delegates. Rhode Island delegates pooled their cash and came up with $130. The California delegation, which represents about 100,000 registered Green voters, stuffed $665 in the recycled boxes that were passed from hand to hand in the convention hall like a church offering.
Regardless of how much money he raises, Nader expects to be on the ballot in at least 40 states, and he said today he will run all-out in potential battleground states such as California, where his anti-establishment message might have traction.
After a nearly two-hour acceptance speech tonight, Nader heads for campaign appearances and fundraisers in Los Angeles and San Francisco on Monday, and his organizer in the state held out hope that Nader could get 10 percent of the vote in California--where even 5 percent would be a serious blow to Vice President Gore, the presumed Democratic nominee.
"If Albert Gore does not change the spectrum of his agenda," Nader said, "he is going to lose California." And the thinking goes, if Gore stumbles in California, his candidacy is in trouble.
Asked if he feared he would play the role of the spoiler, as Reform Party candidate Ross Perot did in part in the 1992 presidential elections, Nader grinned and asked if anyone in the media was asking Gore if he worried that he was taking votes from Nader.
That underdogs-with-attitude spirit pervaded the nominating convention, attended by 317 delegates from 39 states. There was a giddy buzz in the air that the Nader and Green agendas might just be taken seriously this time around. (Nader ran a non-campaign in 1996 and won barely 1 percent of the national vote.)
At a reception Saturday evening, Nader introduced his mother, who he said engaged the young and earnest Ralph in dialectic conversations, asking her son, "Do you love your country?" Of course, the young Nader said. "Well, then," his mother said, "I hope you'll work hard to make your country more lovable."
Nader, 66, made a name by taking on the automobile industry over safety and often comes across as a walking bookshelf filled with position papers. But this weekend he displayed a dash of humor.
When he asked supporters about possible slogans for bumper stickers, one man in the audience shouted out: "Gore and Bush make me wanna Ralph!" As the place erupted in laughter, Nader admitted he would take that one under advisement. He also liked: "Sooner or later, you'll vote for Nader."
One of the Nader strategies for getting free ink and TV time is to use his outsider status to needle the Democratic and Republican nominees. His first challenge (in addition to his demand to be included in debates) was to ask Gore and Texas Gov. George W. Bush if they would support his call to require all members of Congress to post their voting records on their Web pages.
The stereotype of the Green Party is one of tofu-obsessed, aging, mostly white hippies who care most deeply about neighborhood recycling. And there were some older, ponytailed hipsters in T-shirts at the convention. But the Greens also hit the hotel bars, and a few of them smoked, and much of the rhetoric was less about protecting the spotted owl and more about universal health care, campaign finance reform and devising ways to redistribute the wealth of the country--Nader's three main planks, along with getting the nation out of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.
Nader himself is not even a member of the Green Party. He says he prefers to be considered an "independent" and wants to avoid becoming embroiled in internal Green Party affairs. "I want to make them more extroverted," he said. He supports the overall Green agenda, although he thinks the party sometimes bogs down in too many micro-debates and proposals.
In interviews with Green Party activists over the weekend, it became clear that Nader and the Greens each hope to use the other to further their aims. The Greens want to build a viable third party, with most effort geared toward local and state offices--their beloved grass-roots revolution. To do that, they have to get on ballots and be taken seriously, and Nader might help them do that.
Kevin McKeown, a Green elected to the city council in Santa Monica, Calif., said he believed that a lot of voters "are Green, they just don't know it yet." He said the Nader campaign, and local Greens, share this goal: "We want to tell people that we're here. That what we stand for is what they believe in. That we can be elected. And that once elected, we can govern. That we're serious people with real solutions."
Nader and the Greens hope to target supporters of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former senator Bill Bradley (D-N.J.), whose presidential bids fizzled. They are also hoping to tap union members, disenchanted Democrats, Reform Party voters unhappy if social conservative Patrick J. Buchanan becomes the nominee, and voters dedicated to single interests, such as environmentalists.
The challenge, however, of turning Democrats against Gore was on many Green minds. David Cobb, a leader of the Texas Greens, who just formed their state party and gathered some 74,000 signatures to put Nader on the ballot in the Lone Star State, said his group planned to tell voters, "Don't waste your vote; vote for Nader and the Greens."
"There is nothing anyone can do to take a victory in Texas away from Bush," Cobb said, "and so we are going to tell Democrats: Send a message, vote for Ralph."
Indeed, the Greens seem to heap most of their scorn on the Democrats and Gore. Medea Benjamin, a Green who is running for the U.S. Senate in California against incumbent Dianne Feinstein (D) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R), said she thought Campbell was actually more of a Democrat--and deserved more support--than Feinstein, a powerhouse in national and California Democratic circles.
Greens said they are less interested in moving the Democrats to the left than in beating them and winning status as a viable third party. Greens really do not care, many said, if a Nader candidacy puts Bush in the White House.
© 2000 The Washington Post Company