WASHINGTON -- Ralph Nader, the third-party presidential candidate many Democrats blame for their party's close loss in the 2000 election, is raising money to explore another run for the White House next year, one of his top strategists said Tuesday.
The liberal consumer activist and two-time Green Party presidential nominee has reserved a Web site for the Nader 2004 Presidential Exploratory Committee. But it is still unclear whether he would run as a Green or an independent or run at all.
Theresa Amato, Nader's 2000 campaign manager and a director of his new committee, said Nader expects to make a decision by early next year.
"Calls are being made," Amato said. "A fund-raising effort has just started for the purpose of testing the waters."
Amato said Nader, who was out of town and unavailable for comment, had not yet filed organizing papers with the Federal Election Commission. That is normally a benchmark for politicians who say they are formally considering a race.
But interest in Nader's political plans is high following his impact on the 2000 election. That year, he drew 2.8 million votes nationwide -- 2.7 percent of the popular vote. Nader's share was an important factor in the photo-finish election in which Democrat Al Gore narrowly won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, and thus the presidency, to Republican George W. Bush.
For example, Nader took 97,488 votes in Florida, a state where Bush prevailed over Gore by 537 votes after a contested recount).
Nader also garnered 22,198 votes in New Hampshire, a state Bush won by slightly more than 7,000 votes.
Had Gore carried either state, he would have won the presidency.
Nader rejected charges that his candidacy was to blame for Gore's loss. "I've always said that it was Al Gore's election to lose and that only Al Gore could beat Al Gore," he said shortly after the 2000 vote.
In a similar vein, on Tuesday Amato waved off questions about how Democrats would react to another Nader run. "Ralph has said often what he stands for," she said, "and it's not the job of minor-party candidates to ensure vote margins for the two major parties."
Word of Nader's interest in a possible repeat run gained notice Tuesday after his committee posted a preliminary "Coming Soon!" notice at naderexplore04.org. There were few other details posted on the site.
For Democrats, who consider Nader voters as a constituency their party must woo to help beat Bush, the emergence of another third-party threat from the left would be a setback.
But few Democratic aides were willing to discuss the Nader trial balloon Tuesday. A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee declined comment. Aides to Democratic candidates Howard Dean, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut did not return calls.
Kim Molstre, a spokeswoman for Democratic candidate Richard A. Gephardt, said the Missouri congressman was focused on winning Democratic caucuses and primaries.
"I don't really think he (Nader) affects us that much," Molstre said. She predicted that in the general election, voters disaffected with the current administration would unify "to get rid of George Bush."
One Democrat keenly aware of Nader's potential impact is Lieberman, Gore's 2000 running mate. Jano Cabrera, spokesman for Lieberman, said Tuesday: "If history is any guide, the best way voters can get rid of George W. Bush, the most anti-environmental president in history, is by supporting the Democratic nominee."
Green Party officials, who plan a nominating convention in Milwaukee next June, warn that Democrats shouldn't count on past Nader voters to join a "Beat Bush" coalition. And they plainly resent being called spoilers.
"The Democrats are so rotten, there ain't anything left to spoil," said Marnie Glickman of Portland, Ore., one of the Green Party's five co-chairs.
"That's the position of Greens; that's why we're Greens."
Copyright 2003 Los Angeles Times