Just as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination was settling into a two-man contest, Ralph Nader and Republican President George W. Bush began their campaigns for the presidency this week.
In a move that angered many Democratic Party leaders, Nader announced Sunday that he would be running as an independent this year. He ran as the Green Party candidate for president in 2000.
The announcement stoked the ire of Democrats who blame Nader for former Vice President Al Gore’s loss to Bush in the 2000 election. They point to the 97,000 votes Nader received in Florida (where Bush defeated Gore by only 537 votes) and the 22,000 votes he won in New Hampshire (Bush edged Gore by 7,200 votes) as evidence that Nader might again be a spoiler to the eventual Democratic nominee.
Nader insisted his campaign, which he announced Sunday during an interview on Meet the Press, would not hurt the Democrats. He said his campaign would attract the votes of conservatives who are disaffected with the massive federal budget deficits that have occurred during Bush term in office.
“There are conservatives who are furious with Bush over the deficit, over corporate subsidies, over corporate pornography directed toward children, over the Patriot Act, over many other issues. There are liberal Republicans who see their party taken away from them,” Nader said on Meet the Press. “They may be looking for an independent candidacy.”
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, called Nader’s candidacy “an act of total vanity and ego satisfaction.” Many allies of Nader said they were disappointed with his run for the presidency, saying the focus now should be on beating Bush.
Nader, who spent his career fighting for consumers’ rights, said he was running to speak out against the influence of money in “corporate-occupied” Washington D.C.
“The two parties are ferociously competing to see who’s going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate pay masters,” he said during the same interview.
As an independent, Nader will have to rely on his volunteer organization to gather the signatures he needs to get on the state ballots. In 2000, when he ran under the Green Party banner, he was on the ballot in 43 states.
Democrats said they will be closely watching his campaign and will challenge Nader’s candidacy in the courts.
Bush also joined in the campaign this week, making his first attacks on Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who has won 18 of 20 Democratic state primaries so far, including wins in Idaho, Utah and Hawaii on Tuesday.
Referring to “one senator from Massachusetts” in a speech at a fund-raising dinner for the Republican Governor’s Association, Bush accused the Democratic candidates of waffling on votes on Iraq, national security and education. Bush said the candidates voted to support the bills in Congress but then attacked the Iraq war, the Patriot Act and the No Child Left Behind acts during their campaigns.
Bush campaign officials told The New York Times that the speech was the closest announcement Bush would make to an official entrance into the presidential race.
Meanwhile, Kerry and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards continued their campaigns in anticipation of the March 2 “Super Tuesday” round of primaries, when voters in 10 delegate-rich states go to the polls. At stake is 25 percent of the total delegates. Kerry is hoping to win enough states to seal his position as the nominee, while Edwards is looking for some wins to boost his candidacy.
A candidate must win 2,162 delegates (half the total of 4,322 delegates) in state primaries to receive the party’s nomination. Kerry has 663 delegates and Edwards has won 199, according to Associated Press estimates.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich (8 delegates) and the Rev. Al Sharpton (16 delegates) are also competing in Democratic primaries.
Brian White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.