Rick Bowmer  /  AP file
Ralph Nader says John Kerry "is a gentleman and he understands we all have to do what we have to do."
updated 5/19/2004 6:02:24 PM ET 2004-05-19T22:02:24

John Kerry met with independent Ralph Nader Wednesday, but the Democrat didn’t ask the third-party candidate to quit the presidential race despite widespread Democratic fears that his candidacy could ensure President Bush’s re-election.

Kerry told The Associated Press shortly before the meeting that he believes he will “reduce any rationale” for Nader’s candidacy, but he would never ask another candidate to abandon an election bid.

“In the end, I hope I can make people aware that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush,” Kerry said. “A vote for John Kerry is a vote for the principles and values they care about.”

Following the meeting, Nader said the two discussed a variety of issues, but Kerry never asked him to abandon his independent campaign.

“He’s a gentleman and he understands we all have to do what we have to do, as he put it,” Nader said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.

The candidates did discuss whether Nader would siphon votes from Kerry, a growing concern among Democrats who remain convinced that Nader’s presence on the ballot four years ago, especially in Florida and New Hampshire, cost Democrat Al Gore the presidency.

“We talked about that and I told him of my belief that I would take more votes away from Bush than from him,” Nader said. “He basically said it all comes down to what happens just before the election.”

More meetings expected
Nader said he and Kerry would meet again in the future. “We both agreed to keep the communication lines open and the common objective to defeat the Bush government,” Nader said.   As Nader and Kerry were meeting, other Democrats not connected to the presidential campaign were launching an Internet-based movement to woo Nader supporters from his long-shot bid.

Tricia Enright, president of the National Progress Fund that launched the site, said they planned to start airing television ads next week in which a Nader voter says he made a mistake that helped put President Bush in office.

“We’re not about telling Ralph Nader not to run,” said Enright, who served as communications director for former Democratic candidate Howard Dean. “This is about uniting Democrats and progressives and Nader supporters together to make the party stronger.”

A Kerry aide, speaking on a condition of anonymity, said Kerry led off the hourlong meeting by telling Nader that he intends to win the election and stressing their common goal of ousting Bush.

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The aide said the two candidates spent the rest of the meeting talking about their common fights against corporate welfare and for consumer and abortion rights. The aide said they did not discuss the Iraq war.

Nader is seeking to rally anti-war sentiment and is critical of Bush and Kerry for not outlining a plan to withdraw U.S. troops. While Kerry voted to authorize the use of force in Iraq, he has been critical of Bush’s handling of the war.

The meeting was attended by Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill and his deputy campaign manager Steve Elmendorf. Nader campaign manager Theresa Amato and his spokesman Kevin Zeese also were present.

Kerry told reporters and editors from The Associated Press that he respects other Democrats’ efforts to get Nader out of the race, but his plan is to court voters inclined to support the consumer advocate.

“It’s my intention to speak very directly to those people who voted for Ralph Nader last time,” Kerry said. “I believe my campaign can appeal to them and frankly reduce any rationale for his candidacy.”

Reform Party endorsement
The national Reform Party endorsed Nader last week, a move that gives him access to the ballot in at least seven states, including the battlegrounds of Florida and Michigan.

Enright said the National Progress Fund hopes to begin airing the ads in areas where Nader had the strongest support in 2000, such as Oregon, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Florida. The ad features Bob Schick, a high school English teacher from Ohio.

“Four years ago, I supported Ralph Nader because he stood for the issues I believed in: a clean environment, civil rights, and a sensible foreign policy,” Schick says. “But now, after seeing how quickly and thoroughly the Bush administration has wounded our country — there’s more pollution, an economy that sends our jobs overseas, and a war I have serious questions about — I feel I made a mistake.”

Enright started the group with John Hlinko, who helped start the online movement to convince retired Gen. Wesley Clark to enter the Democratic primary, and David Jones, who was a fund-raiser for Dick Gephardt.

While many Democrats argue that Nader cost Gore the White House in 2000, Nader dismisses that suggestion, saying Gore was a poor candidate. But Kerry said Nader could help Bush win again.

“The polls have obviously shown that he pulls more from our side of the fence than from the other,” he said. “Very simple.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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