Published on Monday, October 23, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Nader's Gains Seen As Real Threat to Gore
by Carla Marinucci and Lynda Gledhill
Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader blitzed
through Northern California yesterday buoyed by polls that indicated
he could cost Democrat Al Gore as many as 37 electoral votes.
``If I was worried about that, I wouldn't have run,'' Nader said in an interview with The Chronicle last night as he rode from a fund-raiser to his rally in Davis. ``I want to defeat him. I want to defeat (George W.) Bush. I want to take more votes than I can possibly dream of.''
Nader has amassed enough support in five critical states -- Minnesota, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington -- to effect races where the Bush-Gore matchup is a statistical dead heat, pollsters note. And even where his support is not as strong, in a handful of other battleground states such as Florida and Pennsylvania, the former consumer advocate now also has strong potential to affect Gore's fortunes.
News of a Nader surge came as the candidate hopscotched across California this weekend, drawing a standing room only crowd of 7,000 cheering supporters to a rally at the Henry J. Kaiser Center in Oakland on Saturday. Yesterday, he hit campaign events in Walnut Creek and Davis, and will be in Palo Alto tonight.
But with just over two weeks before election day, Nader's final push has increased the possibility of his campaign, once considered a mere political asterisk, swinging the outcome of the battle between Bush and Gore.
In Oakland, Nader outright rejected the pleas of a dozen former followers calling themselves ``Nader's Raiders for Gore'' who released a letter Friday calling on him to reconsider his candidacy now that the election has become the closest since 1960 -- when John F. Kennedy won by one vote per precinct.
``It is now clear that you might well give the White House to Bush,'' wrote Nader's former colleagues, who said they worked with him between 1969 and 1984. ``As a result, you would set back significantly the social progress to which you have devoted your entire, astonishing career . . . ''
In the interview, Nader said his focus is not on the other two candidates but on the step-by-step process of creating a third party.
``We're building a party,'' he said. ``You don't build it in a day. You go to a certain stage on Nov. 7th, with millions of votes, then you become a watchdog with the only message that these two parties understand. You say we got millions of votes on this round, and you guys either shape up with these reforms that the American people want, or you're going to lose even more votes to Green Party candidates in the next election.''
Nader also denied accusations by the ``Nader's Raiders'' that he assured them he would never campaign in states where he would damage a chance for a Gore win.
``I never said that,'' Nader said. ``Why would anybody ever run for president if they were worried about taking votes away from all the other candidates? That's what you do in a presidential run.''
Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said yesterday that Nader's recent boosts are due to ``a decline for Gore in the last two weeks.''
``It doesn't look as if Gore rallied the troops,'' DiCamillo said of apparent voter sentiment after fact, some of his supporters pulled away from him.''
Still unclear, said Gore pollster Maslin, is how many current likely Nader voters would have ever been in Gore's camp.
``A good half of Nader's vote . . . is going nowhere else,'' he said, but the other half ``could slip back to Gore if they felt the need. If they don't, it will hurt Gore.''
Nader followers at this weekend's energetic Oakland rally, like John Vance -- selling popular bumper stickers emblazoned with the slogan, ``George W. Bush: Serial Killer'' -- said that progressives aren't at all nervous about the possibility of Nader's candidacy affecting the major two party candidates.
``If George Bush is elected, more people will get active in the protest movement,'' he said. ``You can count on it.''
Such talk both concerns and infuriates Democrats.
``Nader wants to become the No. 1 adversary of the Republican Party. . . and he's become a politician who is committed to setting back progressive causes for decades for his own gain,'' said state Democratic Party campaign chairman Bob Mulholland.
But the bottom line is now ``a triple threat,'' for Gore, said Maslin. ``(Republicans) have more money, they have more enthusiasm and energy in their base, and they don't have a third party drag. So it's obviously cause for concern right now.''
Battleground states where significant support for Nader is most likely to make a difference:
-- Minnesota (10 electoral votes): Nader has doubled his support from 4 points to 8 points in the most recent Minneapolis Star-Tribune poll, and Bush leads Gore by three points, 44-41.
-- Oregon (7 votes): The latest American Research poll shows Gore besting Bush by a slim 44-43, Nader at 6.
-- Washington (11 votes): Gore leads Bush 45-43, with Nader at 5.
-- Maine (4 votes): A Critical Insights poll shows 42 percent for Bush, 37 percent for Gore, with 11 percent for ``other.'' Pollsters say a significant number are for Nader.
-- New Mexico (5 votes): The race is in a dead heat for Bush and Gore with Nader at 5 percent.
Other states where the race is close enough that support for Nader could affect Gore:
Florida (25 votes), Michigan (11 votes), Missouri (11 votes), Pennsylvania (23 votes).