Ralph Nader continued his long and much-maligned march to win the White House Monday night with an impromptu convention in Portland designed to collect the 1,000 voter signatures necessary to qualify for Oregon's November presidential ballot.
The tactic failed, but aides said he would try again.
A total of 741 people came to the downtown Roseland Theater to sign the petitions — 259 fewer than those the veteran consumer advocate needed to qualify for the Oregon ballot, said state Elections Director John Lindback.
"Even the best basketball player doesn't get a slam dunk every time," Nader told the crowd, acknowledging the numbers fell short.
The low turnout is a blow for Nader, who had been counting on using his traditionally strong showing in Oregon to make it the first state to put him on the 2004 ballot.
Greg Kafoury, head of Nader's Oregon campaign, said Nader would not abandon his quest to qualify for the state's ballot. Kafoury said Nader would make use of another option under Oregon law — collecting 15,000 signatures over a three-month period, rather than 1,000 signatures at a single gathering.
The Nader campaign estimates they will need at least 1.5 million signatures to qualify for ballots in all 50 states.
In the last few weeks, Nader has formed a new Populist Party and volunteers have fanned out to collect names to meet varying signature requirements in each state. Texas, for example, requires candidates to amass 64,000 signatures within two months, while Washington state requires 1,000 during the same time period.
In Oregon, Nader decided to combine a Portland campaign stop with an evening of signature gathering. Nader fared well in the 2000 campaign, winning 5% of the Oregon vote.
"We talked to Oregon activists, who felt we could do it," Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese said of the one-day effort.
The 70-year-old consumer advocate has faced criticism from Democrats who say his candidacy will siphon votes from presumed nominee John F. Kerry.
Democrats point to Nader's effect in 2000. Democrat Al Gore won Oregon narrowly by 6,765 votes, while Nader, running as a Green Party nominee, pulled in 21,000 votes.
Last week, several prominent Democratic activist groups sent an open letter to Nader, warning that his presence in the race could ensure the reelection of President Bush and calling his presidential bid "quixotic and destructive." At least one national survey shows Nader drawing significantly less support than in 2000.
Earlier Monday, former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean urged Oregon's voters to ignore the independent's presidential bid and stick with Kerry.
"The only way to send President Bush back to Crawford, Texas, is to vote for John Kerry, because, unfortunately, a vote for Ralph Nader is the same as a vote for George Bush," Dean said in a telephone interview with Associated Press.
Zeese pledged that despite attempts to derail it, the Nader campaign would continue.
"It's the same old argument: Ralph is so great; please don't run," he said of Nader, who established his populist reputation by pushing government consumer safety regulations.
Nader and his supporters say the candidate will draw more votes away from Bush than he will from Kerry. Zeese said there are several segments of the Republican Party — as well as voters from Ross Perot's Reform Party — that voted for Bush in 2000 but who are now looking for an alternative.
"This is not 2000; this is 2004," Zeese said. "The Republican Party is not a monolith. There are different camps that are dissatisfied with Bush. And Nader can expect to take more votes from their camp this time around."
Nader aides said the candidate had raised more money than in the 2000 campaign, when he collected $8 million. This year he expects to raise between $15 million and $20 million, they said.
Nader volunteers will continue to fan out to county fairs, malls and movie theaters nationwide to collect signatures.
Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times