Nader once again puts the Democrats in a delicate situation. As long as Nader is in the race, Kerry will need to tend his left flank, which could make it harder for him to appeal to centrist swing voters. Come fall, Kerry could also find himself in a situation similar to what Gore faced be forced to spend precious time and money campaigning in states like Washington and Maine that, without Nader in the race, would be solidly in his column.
Kerry's allies are laying plans to take on Nader more directly. This week a group of Democratic strategists who previously worked for failed Democratic candidates Howard Dean, Dick Gephardt and Wesley Clark will start airing ads in Arizona and Wisconsin featuring a regretful 2000 Nader voter who laments, "I feel I made a mistake. By supporting Ralph Nader, I actually helped George Bush." Kerry himself is getting blunter too: "A vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush," he told the Associated Press.
Democratic leaders are vowing not to repeat their mistakes with Nader. For starters, they want him close enough to keep an eye on him. Kerry met with Nader last week; their tense session lasted more than an hour, and both sides say they expect more meetings. Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe makes a point of calling Nader regularly, usually starting the conversation, "So, are you dropping out, Ralph?" At a minimum, McAuliffe has privately asked Nader not to campaign in battleground states. Did he agree? "Of course not," Nader told TIME.
There has been some speculation in Democratic circles that Nader might step aside this fall if the race looks close. But the candidate who says he is running because both parties have become captives of corporate interests has a clear answer to the question of whether he plans to fade away: "No. No. Keep hoping. It's not going to happen. This goes way beyond November. This is a movement that has to proliferate in all directions, year after year." Nader, who has always faulted Gore for losing his own base, says he would accept no blame for a Kerry failure. "If the Democrats cannot beat George Bush, that means they're not Democrats; they're crypto-Republicans. And people will always choose the real thing," Nader says, adding, "The only time to drop out is before you drop in. You do not betray your volunteers and your supporters." The next time you happen to be at a truck pull, don't be surprised if someone asks for your autograph.
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