Nader returns to threaten Kerry in quicksilver election

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The Independent US

Democrats are increasingly concerned that the presence of independent candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in a handful of battlefield states could again prevent them from defeating George Bush in the race for the White House.

Democrats are increasingly concerned that the presence of independent candidate Ralph Nader on the ballot in a handful of battlefield states could again prevent them from defeating George Bush in the race for the White House.

Despite Democrats' aggressive legal campaign to block Mr Nader's candidacy, the man blamed by many for Al Gore's defeat in 2000 is likely to appear on the ballot in 35 states - including more than half a dozen of the crucial battleground states in which this election is likely to be decided.

In these states, while Mr Nader may only obtain 2 or 3 per cent of the vote, Democrats fear this will be enough to give victory to the Republicans.

In a sign of the party's growing concern, Democratic Party chairman Terry McAuliffe again urged Mr Nader to stand down this week. "Ralph Nader should do the noble thing ... end the charade of a campaign his corporate backers keep afloat, and endorse John Kerry so that George Bush doesn't get another four years to lead us down the wrong path," he said.

The Democrats' concern reflects a consensus among strategists from both parties that the election is likely to be decided by voters in as few as 10 states - Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. Arizona and Minnesota could also be close.

In a number of these states Mr Nader is on the ballot and threatening to draw votes away from Mr Kerry. In Iowa, for instance, latest polls place Mr Kerry on 47.5 points, Mr Bush on 46.6 points and Mr Nader on 4 points.

In New Mexico, where Mr Kerry and Mr Bush appear to be tied on 46.5 per cent each, Mr Nader is currently polling 1.7 per cent. In 2000 he won 3 per cent of the vote in New Mexico.

If Mr Nader was not on the ballot in these battleground states, it is likely that Mr Kerry would be the one to benefit most. The Nader campaign insists that its candidate is currently drawing supporters from the Republicans as well as Democrats, but pollsters do not agree. Shawnta Walcott, a spokeswoman for Zogby International - which yesterday gave Mr Bush a 4 percentage point lead nationally over Mr Kerry, said research showed that 41 per cent of Nader supporters would vote for Mr Kerry if the independent was not running, while only 15 per cent would vote for Mr Bush.

In a recent interview with The Independent, Mr Nader said despite the overtures being made by the Democrats, he would not drop out of the race.

"Under no circumstances would we drop out ... [That would be an insult] to all the people who have sweated their hearts out for us and add to the cynicism of the public," he said.

Yesterday his campaign spokesman, Kevin Zeese, said if the Democrats were concerned about losing voters to Mr Nader, they should adopt some populist policies. "Ralph has positions that have a lot of support, whether it's the rights of working people, healthcare for all or getting out of Iraq," he said. "The best thing for Kerry would be to adopt some of these positions. If he did, maybe he'd take some of Nader's votes."

That perhaps as few as 10 states remain realistically in play shows how much the stage for this election has been narrowed. As little as six months ago, strategists were saying up to 20 states were up for grabs. Reports now suggest the Democrats have given up hope of winning Missouri and are scaling back efforts in Arizona and West Virginia. At the same time, the Bush campaign appears less optimistic about Michigan or New Jersey, though the President plans to campaign in that state on Monday.

An insight into where the two parties believe they have most chance of persuading undecided voters emerges from figures which show where they are spending the most on television advertising.

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