WASHINGTON – Independent Ralph Nader (search), reviled by some Democrats for his presidential bid, was endorsed Wednesday by the national Reform Party, giving him ballot access in at least seven states, including the battlegrounds of Florida and Michigan.
Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said the candidate welcomes the support but plans to continue running as an independent. He said Nader would decide on a case-by-case basis whether to accept the Reform Party's ballot lines in each state, or try to gain ballot access through other means.
In an interview with Associated Press Radio, Nader said he is counting on Reform Party members to help him get on the ballot in other states. "We'll get a greater get-out-the-vote drive -- there are tens of thousands of Reform Party people in California alone," he said.
The Winsted, Conn. native won the Reform Party (search) endorsement shortly after midnight Tuesday, when more than two-thirds of its national and executive committee members who participated in the vote chose the consumer advocate, said party chairman Shawn O'Hara, who called Nader "a man of peace."
The prospect of Nader appearing on Florida's ballot is certain to incense many Democrats, who blame Nader for pulling votes from Democrat Al Gore (search) in 2000. Gore lost Florida -- and the presidency -- to Republican George W. Bush by fewer than 600 votes, while Nader garnered nearly 100,000 votes there as the Green Party's nominee.
Other states in which the Reform Party has already secured ballot access for its nominee are Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana and South Carolina. The Reform Party said it also had ballot access in Wisconsin, but Kevin Kennedy, executive director for the state's elections board, said the party has not yet qualified for the 2004 presidential race.
Nader is not yet on the ballot in any state.
Democrats have almost universally urged Nader not to run again, saying his presence will only help President Bush win re-election.
"Our position on Ralph Nader has not changed," Democratic National Committee spokesman Jano Cabrera said. "Unless Ralph Nader wants his legacy to be that of simply a political spoiler, our hope is that between now and November, he will urge his supporters to vote for and work for the election of John Kerry."
David Wade, a spokesman for Kerry, praised Nader's accomplishments but urged his supporters to vote for the presumptive Democratic nominee if they want to defeat Bush.
"There's a sense of urgency among Americans about the power of their vote and Floridians who were cheated in 2000 know that best," Wade said. "We're confident that in the end, we believe Americans will elect John Kerry because he has the vision, leadership and judgment to put America back on track."
Nader has struggled to win ballot access in some early states, such as Texas, where a deadline passed Monday without him collecting enough signatures to appear on the ballot. Nader filed a federal lawsuit Monday challenging the signature requirement in Texas. Nader also missed an early opportunity to get on Oregon's ballot, although he has time to try again.
In Florida, Nader faced the daunting task of collecting more than 92,000 signatures to gain ballot access. If he runs as the Reform Party's candidate, we will not need any signatures.
"For a struggling, independent campaign, ballot access is everything," said Allan Lichtman, a political science professor at American University in Washington. "Guaranteed ballot access in eight states is like someone making a multimillion-dollar contribution to the campaign."
In 2000, Gore won Michigan by 5 percentage points, with Nader receiving close to 2 percent of the vote.
The Reform Party claims more than 1 million active members, but it has been plagued by infighting and lost membership since it was founded by billionaire Ross Perot in 1992. Perot won more than 19 million votes when he ran for president in 1992 and more than 8 million votes in 1996.
In 2000, the party fielded two candidates for president, Pat Buchanan and John Hagelin. Many reformers accused Buchanan of trying to bend the party's politics to the right and the party lost membership, with some large groups splintering into other organizations.
Nader had courted Reform Party leaders since March, O'Hara said. Six other lesser-known candidates were seeking the party's nod. The leading contender, Tylertown, Miss., businessman Ted Weill, threw his support to Nader on Monday.
Zeese said Nader also would consider gaining ballot access through other third-party political organizations that might endorse him. In Florida, for example, both the Green Party and the Populist Party have secured access to the ballot. If either or both decide to endorse Nader, he would choose the party that makes the best fit.