This November, if Nader won only the same number of votes as he did in 1996, but if they were cast in the “wrong” states from Kerry’s point of view, it could cost Kerry.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 8/26/2004 3:59:08 PM ET 2004-08-26T19:59:08

Continuing his bitter battle with Democrats over access to state ballots, Ralph Nader won a victory Thursday as officials in Iowa ruled that his name would appear on that state's ballot for the Nov. 2 presidential election.

A three-man review panel consisting of Secretary of State Chet Culver, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who are both Democrats, and State Auditor David Vaudt, a Republican, rebuffed a challenge to Nader's petition brought by Des Moines Democrat Lee Jolliffe.

Jolliffe, a Drake University journalism professor who volunteered for the John Kerry campaign earlier this year, had charged that signatures on the Nader petition, had “all been altered in one kind of way.” But the officials ruled that Nader backers in Iowa had turned in 1,597 valid signatures, 97 more than the required number.

Iowa, which has gone Democratic in every presidential election since 1988, was a nail-biter for Democrats four years ago. President Bush won the count of ballots cast on Election Day, but once the absentee ballots were tallied, Democrat Al Gore pulled it out by a margin of 4,144, one-third of one percent.

"Throughout the country the Democratic Party is taking unprecedented steps to prevent voters from having the choice of a serious anti-war candidate, anti-Patriot Act, pro-health care for all and pro-living wage candidate on the ballot," said Theresa Amato, Nader campaign manager. “We hope the Iowa decision sends a message to the orchestrated assault against our state nominating petitions."

Democrats have had success so far in one battleground state, Arizona, where they used a legal challenge to keep Nader off the ballot.

The independent candidate, who won 2.8 million popular votes four years ago but no electoral votes, confronts ballot deadlines in the next few weeks in states that are crucial to Kerry’s hopes of defeating Bush.

Diversion of energy
Democrats fear that Nader’s presence on the ballot in places such as Iowa, Wisconsin and Oregon might tilt the election to Bush — or at least might force Kerry to divert advertising, money and staff to states where he’d be comfortably ahead, were it not for Nader.

In the final week of the campaign, for instance, Kerry might need to spend three days appealing to voters in Florida, but might be pulled away to shore up support in Wisconsin and Oregon, if polls showed Nader drawing anti-Bush voters there.

Video: Anti-Nader ad "He doesn't need to be on the ballot in 15 or 16 of the battleground states. All he needs to do is to be on the ballot in three or four or five of the battleground states to make a difference in the election," said Chris Kofinis, a strategist for a group called, which is trying to persuade would-be Nader voters to re-consider.

Although exit poll data from 2000 is too scanty to prove that Nader cost Gore the election, Democrats believe that he did.

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And Democrats’ anxiety over Nader reflects Kerry’s weakness as a candidate. With a stronger Democratic candidate in 1996, Nader was merely a curiosity, not a menace. That year, Nader running as Green Party presidential candidate won 685,000 votes, but Bill Clinton coasted to re-election.

This November, if Nader won only the same number of votes as he did in 1996, but if they were cast in the “wrong” states from Kerry’s point of view, it could cost Kerry. has launched a new TV ad airing in two battleground states, Wisconsin, where Nader won 3.6 percent in 2000, and New Mexico, where he won 3.5 percent.

Accepting GOP help
The ad assails Nader for accepting Republicans’ help and jokes that Bush might as well replace Dick Cheney with Nader as his running mate.

Kofinis, one of the leaders of last year’s Draft Wesley Clark movement, noted that Nader’s campaign has accepted contributions from Republican donors such as Richard Egan, the Massachusetts campaign finance chairman for Bush's re-election campaign, and that in states such as Michigan and Iowa, Republicans have signed Nader petitions to qualify him for the ballot and worked to get others to sign.

A recent study by the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics found that 29 Nader donors have also contributed to Bush's re-election campaign.

Nader's receipts from donors who have also contributed to GOP candidates amount to four percent of the $1.5 million he has raised.

Kofinis portrays Nader as a man at odds with his own supporters. "Nader himself says these are people who are angry at the Bush administration, but he is running as a candidate who potentially helps Bush to remain in office. Someone should ask him, 'Why do you find it necessary to accept Republicans' help?'"

Pointing to Nader’s career as crusader for environmental protection, consumer safety, and tighter restrictions on corporations, Kofinis said, "He doesn't see the hypocrisy of taking Republican money from the same people who are trying to destroy everything he has tried to do in his career. Nader is being disingenuous. It's a tragedy, given what he's done in his past."

Rejecting 'manipulation'
But Nader campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese, said, “In Pennsylvania we turned down 10,000 signatures because we suspected they were from some Republican manipulation group and we didn’t want any part of that.”

Zeese said Nader “is happy to have Republicans sign” petitions to get him on state ballots, but “he doesn’t want people using the campaign for Machiavellian games.”

He added that Nader expects to be on the ballot in more than 40 states.

Zeese rattled off an array of issues on which he said Kerry is “wrong,” including “Iraq, NAFTA, free trade, Palestine and Israel, the Patriot Act.” Democrats’ effort to help Kerry by denying Nader ballot access “prevents people from knowing he’s essentially another Bush,” he said.

For a microcosm of the potential Nader effect, consider two swing states, which Bush nearly won in 2000 and where he is making a maximum effort this year:

  • New Mexico. (Five electoral votes) Four years ago, Florida got almost all the attention but the margin in New Mexico was even closer: Bush lost the state by only 366 votes.
    On Thursday, Bush made three campaign stops in New Mexico. Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards also campaigned there Thursday.

Naderites must file 14,527 signatures — one of the toughest requirements of any state for ballot access — by Sept 7. While challenges in the courts may take a few weeks, the practical deadline for deciding whether Nader makes the ballot is several days prior to Oct. 5, when ballots must be mailed out to absentee voters.

  • Wisconsin: (Ten electoral votes) As with New Mexico, the filing deadline is Sept. 7. But the threshhold is far lower: Nader backers must submit at least 2,000 and no more than 4,000 signatures of Wisconsin voters.

The State Election Board, composed of five Democrats, three Republicans and one Libertarian, would review any challenge to the Nader signatures and decide the issue by a majority vote. Absentee ballots must be delivered to municipal clerks throughout the state by Oct. 4.

Bush missed winning Wisconsin four years ago by only 5,708 votes, or two-tenths of one percent.

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