Archive for Sunday, April 11, 2004

Nader facing more obstacles this time

Former local supporters conflicted on 2004 vote

April 11, 2004


Marie Stockett wasn't a big fan of politics until 2000, when Ralph Nader ran for president.

The Lawrence woman was so inspired by Nader's left-wing Green Party candidacy that she became an activist, joining the Kaw Valley Greens, then serving the party at the state and national levels.

"I'm an example of the attention Ralph Nader brought to Green Party values," Stockett said. "It was the first time I was aware there is a large group of people who share my mindset."

Stockett wasn't the only Lawrence resident to feel that way.

Nader picked up 4,031 votes here in 2000, about 10 percent of all Douglas County presidential votes, one of his highest shows of support across the country.

Four years later, Stockett still finds Nader inspiring. But she's not sure about supporting his presidential campaign this year.

"I'm going to be tempted to vote for whichever way we can get George Bush out of the White House," she said. "That may not be voting for Nader."

Stockett's story shows how political dynamics have changed during the past four years in Lawrence, probably the most liberal community in Kansas. Such changes might damage Nader's chances of even getting on the ballot in the state.

Hurt feelings

While George W. Bush carried Kansas in 2000, Nader and Democratic candidate Al Gore combined for 56 percent of Douglas County votes that year.

But after that election, many Democrats blamed Nader for Bush's narrow nationwide victory over Gore. And those hurt feelings linger.

Observers are watching to see how big a difference it makes in this election.

"If it turns out being much like it was last time, (Nader's candidacy) does have an impact," said Marilyn Greathouse, chairwoman of the Douglas County Democratic Party. "We just hope that people look at that and say, 'No, we want to get rid of Bush.' I've heard a lot of that."

Chris Miller, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, broke into laughter when asked about Nader's effect on this campaign.

"I certainly wasn't disappointed" to hear of Nader's new candidacy, Miller said. "I don't think he'll garner very many Republican votes. ... I think if anything, he'll take away votes from the liberal side of the ticket, which is Senator Kerry," the presumed Democratic nominee.

The pitch

Miller noted, however, that President Bush is virtually guaranteed Kansas' electoral votes in the fall. The state is so overwhelmingly Republican that infighting on the left won't make much difference here.

"I don't think (Nader) is going to change the election in Kansas or the outcome in Kansas," Miller said.

In fact, that's the Nader campaign's pitch for votes in Kansas.

Because the electoral votes in Kansas will go Republican anyway, the rationale goes, individuals can vote however they wish -- it won't make a difference in the outcome.

"People in Kansas need to know they need to vote their hopes and not their fears, because Kansas is a safe state," said Kevin Zeese, spokesman for the Nader campaign.

Before Kansans can make that choice, though, Nader will have to get on the ballot. His campaign will need the signatures of 5,000 registered Kansas voters before Aug. 2 to be listed among the candidates.

So far, though, no one has made that effort.

"We have not heard from the Nader campaign," said Jesse Borjon, a spokesman for Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.

On the ballot?

Zeese said that would change.

"We'll be putting an effort for ballots in all the states," he said. "We'll probably start working on Kansas in a month or so.

"It's always a challenge to get on the ballot. Kansas only requires 5,000 signatures; that's at the lower end, but it's a less populated state, too, so that's a challenge."

The signatures might be harder to come by this year than in 2000. Nader is running as an independent, without the official support of Green Party members, like Stockett, who seem less inclined to support an insurgent candidate.

"I'm conflicted," she said.

The campaign doesn't even have a coordinator in Kansas.

"We've gotten a bunch of people who want to volunteer," Zeese said.

Zeese insisted that the views of President Bush and Sen. Kerry were virtually identical on issues like Iraq, the Patriot Act and other policies.

Nader's former Lawrence supporters don't see it that way, though.

Ryan Gregg is a Green Party member in Lawrence who voted for Nader in 2000 but may not this time, even though he believes Nader is "probably the best candidate." He's concerned, though, about undermining the Democrats.

"There's a real dilemma," Gregg said. "Do we want to do everything we can to get Bush gone? Or do we vote for the candidate we think is best for the job? I don't know yet."

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