Nader: a name to turn Democrats Green with envy

The Scapegoat
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The Independent US

In the end, it was a bit of a bust for Ralph Nader. The dream of 5 per cent of the national vote, which would have entitled him to federal matching funds and a possible permanent place in the American political landscape, failed to materialise.

In the end, it was a bit of a bust for Ralph Nader. The dream of 5 per cent of the national vote, which would have entitled him to federal matching funds and a possible permanent place in the American political landscape, failed to materialise.

The Green party candidate's national share of the ballot was close to 3 per cent - some 2.7 million votes in all - and in not a single state did he manage more than 10 per cent. But as far as Al Gore is concerned, Ralph Nader's name - to paraphrase Franklin Roosevelt onPearl Harbour in 1941 - is one that will forever live in infamy.

If Mr Nader had not run, there is little doubt that today Mr Gore would be celebrating as the 43rd President in waiting. In Florida, Mr Nader won more than 96,000 votes, some 2 per cent of the vote. Given the finding of exit polls across the country that Mr Nader's support was largely at the expense of Mr Gore, it is plain that his standing in the state which will settle this election could prove deadly to the Vice-President.

Similarly in New Hampshire, and perhaps in Oregon, Mr Nader made the difference between victory and defeat for Mr Gore, in two states the Democrats would normally expect to carry comfortably. Not surprisingly, the language issuing from the Gore headquarters on Tuesday night on the subject of Ralph Nader was unprintable.

Elsewhere however, the Nader effect was less remarkable. His best performance came in Alaska with 10 per cent; in Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine and Montana, where he captured up to 7 per cent of the vote, he did not affect the result. Nor did the 5 per cents he picked up in Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii or the District of Columbia have a decisive bearing.

Yesterday, however, the world's most famous consumer champion and scourge of corporate America was unrepentant: "It was Al Gore's election to lose, only Al Gore could beat Al Gore," Mr Nader declared at a morning-after news conference that was not so much a reaction to the previous night's events as a fresh reading of a political manifesto.

The Green party was alive and well, he said. It was the fastest-growing third party in the US, even though Mr Nader acknowledged his disappointment at not reaching the 5 per cent mark. "The Greens are now established as a viable political force, and the election has proved that. Most Americans want that," he said.

Above all, he contended, the election "proved" that the Democrats were a risky proposition as defenders of ordinary Americans. They couldn't win Tennessee for a home-grown incumbent who should have won the White House with little trouble. They had lost the House for the fourth time in a row to an extreme Republican party.

"The American public must realise now that they cannot rely on the Democrats to protect them," he said. "The Democratic party has abandoned its progressive roots, and produced a candidate which simply did not excite the voters."

In an aside on constitutional reform, he predicted that proportional representation - whereby voter percentages would translate directly to congressial power, would become "a very cogent idea" in America's political debate.

In any case, future Democrats will have to find a way of neutralising the Nader effect without veering to the left and alienating centrist voters.

Exit polls showed that two-thirds of Mr Nader's supporters would otherwise have gone Democrat. A small proportion would have backed Mr Bush, whom Mr Nader calls the "bumbling Texas governor with an appalling environmental record".

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