PORTLAND, Ore. – Former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean (search) warned Monday that "a vote for Ralph Nader (search) is the same as a vote for George Bush" as Nader sought to qualify for his first state ballot.
Hours before Nader's appearance in Oregon, Dean urged voters there to ignore the independent's presidential bid and stick with presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry (search). To get on Oregon's presidential ballot, Nader only needs 1,000 registered voters to gather in one place and sign their names on a petition.
"The only way to send President Bush back to Crawford, Texas, is to vote for John Kerry because, unfortunately, a vote for Ralph Nader is the same as a vote for George Bush," Dean told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Dean, the former Vermont governor, had a strong following in Oregon, where supporters threw more fund-raising house parties for him than any other state except California. His plea could have some sway with voters.
An hour after the doors to the Roseland Theater had opened, only about 700 people had showed up to hear the Winsted, Conn., native speak and to sign petitions to put him on the ballot, said state elections director John Lindback.
It was unclear whether Nader would get the needed 1,000 signatures. Failure to do so would be a blow for Nader, who has been counting on using his traditional strong showing in Oregon to make it the first state to put him on its ballot.
Announcing his 2004 bid for the presidency, Nader drew the wrath of Democrats, who blame the consumer advocate for costing Al Gore the election in 2000. They cite the percentage of the vote Nader captured in New Hampshire and Florida, and argue that if it had gone to Gore he would have won. Nader's oft-repeated response is that Gore is to blame.
In Washington, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry told reporters he will reach out to Nader backers in hopes of securing their support.
"I respect him. I'm not going to attack him in any way," Kerry said. "I'm just going to try to talk to his people and point out that we've got to beat George Bush. ... And I hope that by the end of this race I can make it unnecessary for people to feel they need to vote for someone else."
In 2000, Nader made his presence felt in Oregon, garnering 5 percent of the vote in one of the closest presidential contests. Gore edged George W. Bush by 6,765 votes to win the state. At stake in 2004 are Oregon's seven electoral votes.
In his bid, Nader likely will appear on ballots in all 50 states, said Richard Winger, editor of the nonpartisan newsletter Ballot Access News. "It's not as hard as some people think," Winger said.
If Nader were to accept the nominations of several third parties that already have met state requirements for their nominees to be on state ballots, such as the Green and Reform parties, he would be a candidate in nearly two dozen states, Winger said. Nader's party affiliation does not matter when votes are tabulated, he said.
"After all, it's candidates that get elected, not parties," Winger said.
Nader's goal is to appear on ballots in all 50 states, said campaign spokesman Kevin Zeese. It took 13 ways, from petitions to party endorsements, for Nader to appear on 43 state ballots in 2000, he said.
With the possibility of Nader getting on Oregon's ballot, local labor, abortion rights and environmental activists who once stood behind his expressed their support for Kerry.
"Like it or not, a vote for Nader could propel George W. Bush into the White House," Caroline Fitchett, executive director for NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, said at a news conference with several local activists.
Jay Ward, conservation director for the Oregon Natural Resources Council, voted for Nader for president in 1996 and 2000, but said this election, "the stakes are just too high to vote for Ralph Nader."