Published on Wednesday, July 12, 2000 in The Hill
Wellstone Torn Between, Gore, Nader
by Ian Miller
Although Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) has endorsed Vice President Al Gore in his bid for the White House, he doesn't hide his enthusiasm about the issues raised by Ralph Nader's presidential candidacy.

Wellstone told The Hill that he agrees with Nader on almost every issue but one.

"The only disagreement is that I'm not supporting a third party effort," he laughed. "I'm just not in the Green Party."

The second-term Minnesota senator explained matter-of-factly that his endorsement for president was not a difficult decision.

"I'm supporting the vice president in this race," Wellstone said in the form of a disclaimer. "I've always said that I'm a Democrat, and that's who I support."

Yet, Gore was not Wellstone's first choice. The liberal themes of former Sen. Bill Bradley's (D-N.J) campaign mixed nicely with the issues Wellstone is most passionate about.

"I thought that Bill's focus on the poverty of children was heart and soul," he said. "I would have supported him on that alone."

But, the crash and burn of the Bradley campaign left the Democrats with only one contender. And the vice president was quick to court members of Congress who had supported Bradley, and, in turn, Wellstone was quick to endorse Gore.

"About two days after Bradley bowed out, the vice president came to Minnesota," Wellstone recalled.

Yet, on many fronts, Nader's campaign follows the liberal line of Bradley's much closer to Wellstone's political philosophy than Gore's middle-of-the-road stances. Wellstone naturally gravitates to the same issues.

"I think Ralph and I are in agreement on the key issues in the country - reform to health care, to the education system, to the right to organize," he said.

Labor is one area through which Wellstone and Nader continue to walk together, while Gore and the Democratic Party have wandered in search of, perhaps, more lucrative pastures.

"The Democrats have institutionalized their indifference to organized labor," Nader recently said. "Instead they're taking them for granted, and knowing it! Knowing it."

Specifically, the Minnesota senator and legendary consumer advocate are in agreement in their opposition to granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) to China. Both are adamant about taking human rights issues and the right to organize labor unions into account before the thoughts of business deals and economic interests.

Yet, while Wellstone shares many of the same ideas with Nader, he is careful to not use the words "support" or "endorse" when speaking of the man.

"Ralph Nader is someone who I've always admired, and I continue to," Wellstone said. "He continues to command my respect. There are a lot of issues that he's talking about that are important for the country."

"The inequalities in the country - [Nader is] never afraid to take on the special interests," he continued, but was quick to promote the Democrat: "The vice president is saying some of that stuff, as well."

Wellstone said that he and Nader are friends, but not in the personal sense.

"We've known each other for a long time," he said. "He's not someone who we get together with on the holidays. [But] he's a friend."

Many Democrats have kept their distance from Nader and the Green Party for fear of undermining the efforts of their own candidate.

However, Wellstone defended his stance on Nader, and didn't foresee troubles or criticism from others in the Democratic Party.

"It's not based on any formal support," he said.

Copyright - 1999 Capitol Hill Publishing Corp