Ralph Nader Tosses Hat Into Presidential Ring As Independent

Green Party's 2000 candidate must deliver 1.5 million signatures to get on ballot.

Eddie Vedder toured for him. Thom Yorke used a "Saturday Night Live" appearance to beg America to let him debate. And thousands of Democrats were praying Sunday morning that he'd just stay home. Instead, Ralph Nader, the pioneering public advocate, champion of the seatbelt and the Green Party's 2000 presidential candidate, announced to NBC's Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" that he would run for president again in 2004 as an independent candidate.

"After careful thought and my desire to retire our supremely selected president, I've decided to run as an independent candidate for president," Nader said on Sunday. "There's a democracy gap. There's just too much power and wealth in too few hands, increasingly giant corporations, hands that have no allegiance to our country or our communities other than to control them or to abandon them. They have taken over Washington."

In 2000 Nader ran on a liberal-populist message declaring the Democratic and Republican parties as a virtually indistinguishable "duopoly" equally beholden to corporate interests. Disaffected voters who felt ignored by the Clinton White House rallied behind Nader in an attempt to at least turn out 5 percent of the national vote, thereby guaranteeing the Green Party federal matching funds to make it the third party. But Nader showed weakly in national polls as Election Day approached. He was excluded from presidential debates and even thrown off the grounds of one in Boston by security guards ordered to keep him out of the audience.

In the end, Nader took less than 3 percent of the vote nationwide. But in key states such as Florida, his 97,488 votes would have drastically changed the outcome where George W. Bush won by a mere 537 votes. Many Democrats view Nader as the Gore-presidency spoiler and as scapegoat for the current conservative hold on the Congress, Supreme Court and White House.

As the 2004 election approaches, some liberal Democrats — including documentarian Michael Moore, who stumped for Nader in 2000 and backed General Wesley Clark during the primaries, and The Nation magazine editorial staff — are worried Nader could once again upset a Democratic victory. Nader dismisses the charge.

"The liberal intelligentsia has got to ask itself a tough question," Nader told Russert. "For 25 years they have let their party run away from them. For 25 years they've let their party become a captive of corporate interests. And now they want to block the American people from having more choices and voices, especially young people who are looking for idealism, who are looking for a clean campaign, who are looking for the real issues in this country instead of the sham and the rhetoric that masquerades for political campaigning."

To get on the ballot as an independent, however, Nader must first get 1.5 million signatures on a petition supporting his presidential bid. The task may prove impossible if Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is correct in thinking that liberals will circle their wagons around the Democrats. "I can tell you, Green Party members are all coming into the party saying they want to help us because they know the stakes are so big this time. It will be much more difficult for him," McAuliffe said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Less than 2.5 million people voted for Nader in November 2000. Nearly 18 million 18-to-30-year-olds showed up, though. And at 20 million loud in 2004, young voters could prove to be the decisive voting bloc this year.

For more political news, insight into the 2004 presidential election and information on registering to vote, check out ChooseorLose.com.