Published on Thursday, November 2, 2000 in Roll Call
Democrats Mull Whether Nader Will Help Take Back House
by Susan Crabtree
Forget about House Democrats counting on coattails - or even coat strings - from an Al Gore victory to boost their chances of winning back the House.
In the final days before the election, the presidential campaign is so unpredictable that some Democrats are quietly playing up the small bounce that Ralph Nader's name on the ticket may provide to key races.
Disappointed by Gore's inability to surge ahead in the past few weeks, Democrats analyzing the key House seats needed to retake the majority believe Nader voters could provide the margin of victory - however slight - for Democratic wins in crucial races in California, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"In these areas, anyone who turns out for Nader would certainly vote for the Democratic candidate for the House," one House Democratic strategist said. "[Nader] turns out a different kind of voter, a more interested voter who would help us put more seats in the bank for the majority."
Nader is currently polling at 5 percent in 10 key battleground states. The strategist specifically mentioned polls that indicate Nader voters would bring a slight boost to Rep. Bill Luther (D-Minn.) as well as County Councilman Rick Larsen (D), who is trying to fill an open seat in Washington state.
This week some 20 progressive House Democrats were expected to hit the trail in an effort to beat back the Green Party candidate's recent swell of support, momentum they believe will siphon votes from Gore and only help propel Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) into the White House. But the budget impasse has so far kept these Members in session, unable to bring their message directly to voters.
The news that these lawmakers would be staying put came as a welcome relief to at least one House Democrat engaged in a tough election battle.
"We just can't rely on Gore to help us anymore," the Democratic Member said. "If we're serious about taking back the House, I think it's time for us to look to Nader as a help, not a hindrance."
Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), who had planned to travel to California, Oregon and Washington this week to stump for Gore, acknowledged that Democratic priorities for specific races and the presidency have been at odds in recent weeks.
"Sometimes they do not intersect," he admitted. "It gets a little dicey."
Nevertheless, Jackson is still intent on blunting Nader's progress. He said his father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Gloria Steinem; Warren Beatty; and Annette Benning are traveling around the country to spread the word that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.
Meanwhile, Members who support Gore are doing everything they can to get the anti-Nader message out. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), along with 13 other Members who have worked closely with Nader for many years, sent a letter to the Green Party candidate calling on him to tell supporters to switch their support to Gore.
When asked how she thought this would affect key Congressional races that would benefit from the greater voter turnout Nader would inspire, Schakowsky focused on the presidential race.
"We hope for a Democratic-controlled House," she said. "But it would be much harder for us to have a Republican president in the White House."
Before a press conference organized yesterday to denounce Nader as an active opponent of abortion rights, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice Task Force, argued that any talk of Nader providing Democrats the margin needed to take back the House was completely unfounded.
"This is about what Nader stands for - that he will undermine a woman's right to choose," Lowey said. "Any talk of 'I want to be in the majority so I'll support Nader' ... well, I'm just not convinced that would be the case."
At the press conference, nine female Members who support abortion rights, along with National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League President Kate Michelman and Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt, attacked Nader's recent statement that "even if Roe v. Wade is reversed that doesn't end [legalized abortion], it just reverts it back to the states."
"[Nader] is trying to build a third party, and he is free to do so," said Rep. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.). "But he is not free to build it on the backs of American women."
After the conference, Nader campaign manager Theresa Amato showed up, setting off a nasty exchange with the remaining group of Members and abortion-rights activists. Clearly agitated, Amato said they had taken Nader's statements out of context and called the effort a "blatantly partisan response" and the "worst sort of dirty-trick politics."
After all, it was Gore, she shot back, who had voted to approve the appointment of anti-abortion rights Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Amato also took the Members to task for hurting their own chances of retaking the House.
"According to Democratic logic, if Nader voters really are coming out like they say, they will also be bringing out the vote for their candidates," she said. "We have heard that a number of Democrats are hoping that's the case and really resent the attacks on Nader. I think these scare tactics are having a boomerang effect in some of their races."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) brushed aside arguments that attacking Nader would undermine Democrats' chances at winning the majority.
"We're encouraging more women to come out and vote - women who would not have been motivated before," she said.
At the press conference, NARAL announced it was pouring an additional $1 million into a new TV ad blitz warning women against voting for Nader.
Copyright 2000 © Roll Call Inc.