WASHINGTON - Oops, Ralph Nader's doing it again.
Almost exactly four years after he announced he would run for president, the former Green Party candidate is poised to declare that he's running again this year, this time as an independent.
Despite a vigorous effort on the part of the left to keep Nader from running and despite his insistence that he's still mulling over his decision, friends, associates and insiders say he's determined to run again.
"I think there's very little doubt," said Micah Sifry, the author of a book on third-party politics and a longtime Nader watcher. "I think he's going to run."
Nader has twice delayed saying whether he would be a candidate, but with the anniversary of his Feb. 21, 2000, announcement coming up, insiders expect the latest declaration next week.
Sifry is part of the campaign to stop Nader from running, which went into high gear last month with an open letter to him in The Nation, a liberal magazine that has been associated with him for 30 years. The letter, signed by the editors, urged him not to run. Nader contributors from 2000, such as Ben Cohen, a co-founder of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, also are organizing "No, Ralph, No'' efforts.
At the heart of the anti-Nader effort is the determination to defeat President Bush and the belief that Nader, blamed for tilting the close 2000 election to Bush by siphoning off votes from opponent Al Gore, especially in Florida, could once again play the "spoiler" role.
"The stakes are too high," said Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of The Nation. "We feel Bush's defeat is critical."
"We have an extremist administration which misled the nation into war and is undermining democracy," she said in an interview. Referring to Nader's dismissal of his Republican and Democratic opponents in 2000, she said, "It's no longer Bush and Bush Light."
Nader, a citizen activist who has always had a stubborn, contrarian streak, is equally determined to exercise his right to run and to make issues such as anti-corporate power and universal health care central campaign themes.
A spokeswoman for Nader's exploratory campaign, Linda Shade, said, "Nader is in the final stages of making a decision."
Nader, in an interview Feb. 4 on National Public Radio, responded with irritation to the effort to stop him: "It's a marvelous demonstration by liberals, if you will, of censorship. Now mind you, running for political office is every American's right. Running for political office means free-speech exercise; it means exercising the right of petition, the right of assembly. ... To say `Do not run' to anybody is to say, `Do not speak. Do not petition. Do not assemble. Remain silent.' That's just unacceptable, especially coming from people like the editors of The Nation."
Nader is polling volunteers from the 2000 campaign via e-mail asking whether he should run, but his exploratory committee already is examining state ballot-access requirements.
According to Richard Winger of the newsletter Ballot Access News, Nader asked him about the difficulties of getting on ballots as an independent. "It's not as hard as people think," said Winger, who estimates that hiring firms to get the necessary 600,000 signatures nationwide would cost about $1.8 million.
Nader backed out of running as a Green Party candidate in December, largely because the party won't determine what kind of presidential campaign it will run until its June convention in Milwaukee. "That would be too late," he said last year.
The question now is whether Nader, who spent about $8 million on his campaign in 2000, can raise the money and attract supporters to make a difference in the election. So far, donors and activists from 2000 have been scarce, with a proliferation of Web sites such as: http://www.repentantnadervoter.com/
urging him not to run and high-profile supporters such as Cohen and filmmaker Michael Moore working against a Nader repeat.
Some Nader advocates had an epiphany after the 2000 election when the outcome was decided by Florida. Bush won the state by 537 votes, defeating Democratic nominee Gore. Democrats say Gore would have won with a small fraction of Nader's voters, who gave Nader 97,488 votes in the state. Nader also arguably cost Gore New Hampshire, where Bush won by 7,211 votes. Nader received 22,198 votes in the Granite State.
Nader always has rejected the spoiler label. "It is not my job to elect my opponents," he has said. And he has some die-hard supporters, even among Greens. "There's an effort among a lot of Greens nationwide to get Nader to run," said Jerry Kann, a New York-based Green Party member. "He's the best spokesperson for our values."
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