Green supporters under pressure to switch to Gore

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The Independent US

At the Seattle headquarters of the Nader-for-President campaign, amid the environmental slogans and the anti-globalisation posters, is a prominently displayed quotation from Gandhi. "First they ignore us," it reads. "Then they laugh at us. Then they fight us. Then we win."

At the Seattle headquarters of the Nader-for-President campaign, amid the environmental slogans and the anti-globalisation posters, is a prominently displayed quotation from Gandhi. "First they ignore us," it reads. "Then they laugh at us. Then they fight us. Then we win."

Having been ignored, if not exactly laughed at, for most of the campaign, supporters of Ralph Nader and the Green Party are coming under heavy pressure to switch their votes to Al Gore, the Democratic candidate, rather than risk a split that could give George W Bush the keys to the White House. Far from heeding the appeals of Democratic Party leaders and grassroots organisations, however, the Naderites are thrilled by the attention.

"It's only since we've been denounced as spoilers that we've been getting the media coverage," said Scott Royder, an impassioned environmentalist from Texas who is co-ordinating the campaign for Washington state. "Frankly, it's not Ralph's fault if Gore can't win. We're not trying to raid Democratic votes. We're appealing to the 51 per cent of Americans who wouldn't otherwise vote at all."

All down the West Coast, considered solid Democratic territory in 1992 and 1996, there are signs that enthusiasm for Mr Gore is tepid at best and that the Nader factor could swing the region - and the whole presidential race - into the Republican column.

Mr Gore maintains a narrow lead in Washington and a rather broader one in California. But in Oregon one opinion poll this week put him four points behind Mr Bush, with Mr Nader scoring 10 per cent - his highest standing in the country. University campuses, in particular, are lobbying heavily for the third-party ticket, arguing that a strong showing for Mr Nader is the only way to break the two main parties' grim embrace of big corporate money.

The big guns of the Democratic Party are hoping there is still time to reverse the trend. Mr Gore was in Oregon and California yesterday. Jesse Jackson, considered a bridge between the radical left and mainstream Democrats, appeared at the University of Washington in Seattle to argue that abandoning Mr Gore would damage the progressive agenda, not advance it. Celebrities from Gloria Steinem, the feminist writer, to Melissa Etheridge, the rock singer and gay rights activist, will be singing the same tune later this week on campuses from Eugene, Oregon, to Berkeley, California.

West Coast union leaders have also pledged to get out the Gore vote, but not all theirmembers are co-operating because of Mr Gore's support of trade globalisation and the perception that corporate contributions have put him on the bosses' side. In Seattle, two local unions - a chapter of the truck-driving Teamsters and a group of postal workers - have come out for Mr Nader.

Mr Bush has revelled in his opponent's struggles, relishing the chance to tour the West Coast yesterday and on Monday. One Republican Party group has even run pro-Nader television adverts in college towns. It seems likely that many Nader supporters will indeed switch to Mr Gore in the cold light of the voting booth next Tuesday. The big question is how many.

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