With the Democrats continuing to wage an internal war to select their presidential candidate and Republicans all but settled on theirs, a familiar yet potentially damaging political face has emerged in the race leading up to November’s general election.
On Feb. 24, political activist and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader declared his candidacy in the 2008 presidential election, running as an independent.
Much like his previous platforms, Nader said his current campaign aims to end corporate control over government, combat corporate greed in the U.S. and reach out to those voters who feel alienated from the political process.
But eight years after Al Gore’s narrow presidential election loss to George Bush in 2000 – a loss that many blamed on Nader, then running on the Green Party ticket, for having taken votes away from Gore – many Democrats at the University are still upset with the corporate crusader’s decision to run that year.
“He gave the election to Bush,” said LSA sophomore Tom Duvall, chair of Students for Barack Obama. “That’s a pretty strong opinion among Democrats.”
Duvall said he also doubted whether Nader’s message to voters in the current election was appealing, and saw little substance in the independent’s platform.
In the 2000 election, voting statistics in battleground states like Florida suggested that if Nader hadn’t run, Gore might not have lost to Bush. Many point to Florida for evidence to support this claim, as Nader garnered nearly 100,000 votes there on his Green Party ticket. Bush beat Gore in Florida by a mere 357 votes.
Overall, Nader gained a total of nearly three million votes, or approximately 2.7 percent of the total vote, illustrating his appeal to certain voters.
But this time around, many doubt whether Nader holds the same kind of relevance in the presidential election setting that he did eight years ago.
Political Science Prof. Kenneth Kollman said Nader’s message in his 2000 campaign, that Democrats and Republicans are essentially the same, no longer resonates with voters.
“Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are emphasizing their credentials as tried and true Democrats so I think that that’s something that undercuts Nader’s reason for running,” Kollman said.
In 2000, Nader attracted votes because of both the public’s frustration with Bill Clinton’s presidency and because voters saw few distinctions between the positions of Democratic candidates and Republican candidates on addressing corporate greed.
But in 2008, Kollman said, the distinction between Democrat and Republican is more salient than ever.
Brady Smith, chair of the University’s College Republicans chapter, said Republicans weren’t bitter about Nader’s choice to run.
While Smith said Nader might sway voters who favored former candidate Mike Huckabee’s populism, he said he thought Nader’s message of combating corporate greed wasn’t appealing to the Republican party because the party’s presumptive nominee, John McCain, is free of the corruption that Nader bemoans.
“McCain has been no friend of lobbyists in Washington,” Smith said.
Kollman said no matter who receives the Democratic nomination, Nader is still going to be vastly unpopular. He wasn’t that the University didn’t have any Nader support groups.
“You gotta get people energized and excited about your candidacy,” Kollman said. “I don’t think Nader has done any of that.”