WASHINGTON - The Congressional Black Caucus hopes to arrange a meeting soon with Ralph Nader to try to persuade him to abandon his independent run for the White House, the caucus' chairman told the National Press Club yesterday.
"We are very much concerned about Ralph Nader," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "The fact is that we are worried that he will take votes away from our Democratic" candidate, Sen. John Kerry.
Cummings said that New York Rep. Charles B. Rangel, one of the 39 Democrats who make up the caucus, had asked him to set up a meeting with Nader. Kevin Zeese, a Nader spokesman, said the campaign had not received the request.
Nader has maintained that he will not withdraw his candidacy, saying that would disappoint those voters he is asking for support. But he has yet to qualify for any state ballot.
Cummings, an early backer of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, had said during the Democratic primaries that he had questions about Kerry's positions on issues of importance to African-Americans. After Dean's candidacy began to unravel, Cummings endorsed Kerry.
During his luncheon speech, the 53-year-old congressman predicted a record African-American turnout in November. He called it essential that "one-party Republican rule in Washington" be brought to an end.
Cummings mentioned Kerry by name only once during his 38-minute speech, praising the Massachusetts senator's plan to make affordable health care more widely available. That was immediately after Cummings acknowledged that "no one running for president is committed to moving as far as we in the [caucus] would go" in calling for a publicly financed, single-payer national health care system.
In fact, Nader, a longtime proponent of universal health care, is advocating a single-payer program for all Americans as part of his campaign.
Cummings, during a question-and-answer period, said voters "need to be very, very practical about this election." Kerry and the Democrats, he said, are "much more in tune" with the aims of Nader and his supporters than President Bush is.
"Ralph Nader has his own agenda," Cummings said. "But, hopefully, by sitting down and meeting with him and asking him to step aside, hopefully he'll do that."
Nader and Kerry have spoken in general terms about holding private talks, but none has been announced. Both campaigns have blamed schedule conflicts for their failure to meet.
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