Of all states, Ralph Nader (search) should have had no trouble getting onto the Oregon presidential ballot given the support he's had here.
Most political observers had expected Nader would easily draw enough supporters at a Monday evening petition-signing rally intended to make Oregon the first state to qualify Nader for the 2004 ballot.
But only 741 people showed up — far short of the 1,000 required by Oregon law.
"Even the best basketball player doesn't get a slam-dunk every time," Nader told his supporters.
Still, Nader said he would not abandon his quest to qualify for the Oregon ballot, but will try another option available under Oregon law — collecting 15,000 signatures over a three-month period, rather than 1,000 signatures at a single gathering.
"Don't worry, we'll be on the ballot in Oregon," the longtime consumer activist declared.
Nader has been able to draw large crowds in the past in Oregon. A year after the 2000 presidential race, for example, he attracted a paying audience of 7,000 at an event here.
Nader said that having to compete with Monday night's NCAA basketball championship game likely contributed to the low turnout at his event.
"The ball game, it had to be the ball game," Nader muttered as he climbed a stairway leading to the stage.
But the low turnout may reflect worry among progressives and liberals that Nader's candidacy could help get President Bush get re-elected by drawing away votes from the presumptive Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry (search).
"There are times you make principled choices, heart choices," said Jay Ward, conservation director for the Oregon Natural Resources Council, who voted for Nader for president in 1996 and 2000. "It's time to be rational. This time the stakes are just too high to vote for Ralph Nader."
Ward spoke earlier Monday at a Portland press conference called by former Nader backers who said they were throwing their support to Kerry.
Also on Monday, former Democratic presidential contender Howard Dean (search) urged Oregon's voters to ignore the independent's presidential bid and stick with Kerry.
"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 said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press.
In announcing his 2004 bid for the presidency, Nader drew the wrath of many Democrats who blame the consumer advocate for costing Al Gore (search) the election in 2000. They cite the vote Nader captured in close contests in New Hampshire and Florida and argue that if either state had gone to Gore he would have won.
Nader insists Gore is to blame for his loss.
In Washington, Kerry told reporters that 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 of Nader. "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 got 5 percent of the Oregon vote in which Gore edged Bush by 6,765 votes to win the state's seven electoral votes.