Yes, Nader Did Have an Effect. Ask Al Gore

  • Share
  • Read Later
The Big Green Monster took a big bite out of Al Gore Tuesday night. Green party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, whose grassroots campaign took him from college campuses to shipyards to environmental rallies, fulfilled his potential as a spoiler, capturing votes in states critical to Gore. While the fiercely independent candidate fell short of collecting the 5 percent of the popular vote required to ensure federal matching funds for the Green party in 2004, Nader was euphoric early Wednesday morning. "The Green party has emerged as the third largest party in America, the fastest-growing party and the best party to take back the government for the people," he told supporters in Washington, D.C.

But for every joyous Nader loyalist, there are several fuming Democrats. As the recount began in Florida's bitterly contested presidential race, faithful Dems were pointing angrily to Nader's 97,000 votes, 10 percent of which would have pushed the Sunshine State into Gore's column. In Oregon, where the race remains too close to call, Nader is also expected to pull in a healthy vote count — numbers that could certainly have saved the state for the Democrats, if Nader had not been a factor.

But he was. At press time, the Green party had pulled down 3 percent (or 2.5 million) of the popular vote nationwide, while Gore and George W. Bush remained divided by a margin of less than 200,000 ballots. Across the country, disillusioned Democrats, liberals, environmentalists and trade union members stuck to their guns and voted for Nader, ignoring entreaties from former compatriots scared out of the Nader camp by the specter of a Bush presidency. Gloria Steinem and Melissa Etheridge, once Nader supporters, reversed course in the last weeks before the election, and campaigned mightily for Gore. And while their efforts, as well as those of splinter groups like Nader's Raiders for Gore, may have kept Nader from the magic 5 percent mark, many Green party idealists proved resolute.

Nader himself made it abundantly clear that he was not interested in backing down from Election Day — and that he saw no true difference between the two major party candidates. He scoffed at requests that he cast his support behind Gore, saying he was not out to help or hurt either the Democrats or Republicans. He was out to advance a cause — or, as his critics put it, to advance himself. And no matter what the eventual outcome of the presidential election may be, Nader has positioned himself as a key player in this historic showdown, and has firmly entrenched the Green party, with its left-wing, populist interests, in the consciousness of mainstream politicians.

And in the process, he's also made himself a whole lot of enemies. Reform party candidate Pat Buchanan, who received less than 1 percent of the popular vote, had a few words of advice for Nader Wednesday morning: "I would currently advise Ralph, given the numbers that I've seen, that he may be interested in Secret Service protection... from some angry Democrats."

Ralph Nader with a taxpayer-supported security detail? Now, that's a story.