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Godsend for trailing Bush: Nader the challenger

Washington, Feb. 23: America’s presidential election in November may turn out to be a re-run of the cliffhanger in 2000 with consumer activist Ralph Nader declaring his intention to challenge President George W. Bush for the White House as an independent candidate.

“Washington is corporate-occupied territory and the two parties are ferociously competing to see who is going to go to the White House and take orders from their corporate paymasters,” Nader said on NBC Television yesterday on the eve of formally announcing his candidature.

Nader polled just short of three million votes in the presidential election in 2000. In Florida, which Bush won by a mere 537 votes and occupied the White House, Nader secured 97,488 votes, effectively depriving Democrat Al Gore the presidency.

The Lebanese American, whose fight for American consumers has been the nightmare of big corporations for decades, entered the presidential race just as the poll prospects for Democrats appeared to be brightening with a slow, but steady decline in the popularity of Bush in recent opinion polls. Nader’s announcement clearly unnerved Democrats. Terry McAuliffe, the party’s chairman called Nader’s decision “unfortunate.”

McAuliffe, who had pleaded with Nader not to be a candidate in November, said on CBS Television that Nader “has had a whole distinguished career, fighting for working families, and I would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush.”

But the party’s candidates, now in the primaries to choose the eventual challenger to Bush, put on a brave front. Senator John Kerry, the frontrunner said: “I think my campaign is speaking to a lot of the issues Ralph Nader is concerned about.”

Senator John Edwards, who has emerged second in the primaries said Nader “will not impact my campaign” and insisted that his platform would attract voters who might be drawn to the new entrant in the race.

Republicans, for their part, tried utmost to hide their glee that the turn of events would help Bush at a time when he needs a lot of help. “Regardless of what Ralph Nader does, President Bush is going to be re-elected in November,” the party’s chairman Ed Gillespie confidently asserted.

Nader rejected complaints from Democrats and liberals that his presence in the fray would help Bush.

“I would go after Bush even more vigorously as we are in the next few months in ways that the Democrats cannot possibly do because they are too cautious and too unimaginative, but they can pick up the vulnerabilities and the failures of the Bush administration that we point out,” Nader said on ABC Television.

“We have got to give people more voices and choices. And let me tell you, with 100 million people not voting, we have got to give them more voices, choices, more exciting involvement and participation so they are not just spectators watching candidates parade in front of them with emotional slogans.”

A public opinion poll four months ago showed two-thirds of Americans did not want Nader to contest in November: a major reason voters gave was that it was necessary to consolidate anti-Bush votes.

In 2000, Nader had contested as a Green Party candidate. He needs 700,000 signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states and it remains to be seen if he will be able to do so this time without the money or the backing of an established party. Nader compared the prospect to “climbing a cliff with a slippery rope.”

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