Ralph Nader won't win the presidential race in Oregon, but he may determine who will.
Nader, the expected nominee of the Green Party, campaigned yesterday in the comfortably green surroundings of Portland, the closest thing there is to Nader country. In the 1996 election, Multnomah County voters backed Nader at a rate nearly eight times that of voters nationally.
The 66-year-old activist hasn't changed his message about global corporations trampling the rights of individual citizens, buying off the government and poisoning the environment.
Nader ran an uninspired campaign four years ago, but seems energized and enthused about his current bid for president. He's even trying to raise some money; last night he held a $150-per-person fund-raiser. Of course, he didn't come away with the $1.7 million that George W. Bush scooped up during his recent luncheon in Portland.
Yet Nader doesn't want or need that much to reach his target -- the environmentalists, union members and others who feel the Clinton administration has failed them on issues such as free trade, urban poverty, campaign finance and protection of land and water.
It should worry Gore and the Democrats that Nader is getting more serious this election, and fighting to get into this fall's presidential debates.
Especially in Oregon, Nader could easily take enough left-leaning votes to cost Gore his race against Republican George W. Bush in November. Nader professes not to care which of the two, whom he calls "Tweedledee and Tweedledum," ultimately wins.
A recent poll conducted for The Oregonian and KATU (2) showed Bush with 40 percent of voters and Gore with 37 percent. Nader claimed 7 percent of the vote in the poll -- enough to show clearly that in Oregon, the minor-party candidate could play a major role.