WASHINGTON – Democrat John Kerry (search) and independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader (search) met for an hour Wednesday in what is expected to be the first of several conversations, but the two did not discuss Nader's getting out of the race, a Kerry aide said after the meeting.
As promised, Kerry did not explicitly ask Nader to quit November's presidential contest, the aide said.
"The two have known each other for 30 years; it was a very friendly discussion," said the aide, who described the conversation between the two. Citing "security concerns" related to the location of Kerry's headquarters in Washington, D.C., a Nader aide announced to the press after the meeting that Nader had quietly departed and would not address reporters.
According to Kerry's aide, the presumptive Democratic nominee told Nader: "I intend to get elected president. I'm working hard at this; I think it's a huge deal for the country to get rid of the people in the White House, and I think I have the values to do this. And, Ralph, you and I have been together for 30 years on a range of issues, from corporate welfare to consumer issues to the right to choose, right on down the line. I think the way to beat George Bush is for me to get elected president."
The aide said Nader repeated his argument that by running for president, he can help Kerry because he "can provide a sharper counterpoint to President Bush, and the Democratic Party over the last 10 years has not been particularly tough on the issues. The Democratic Party over the last 10 years has been too corporatist and hasn't been supportive enough of his issues."
Kerry also responded to Nader's criticism of the party by telling him not to confuse him by the people who preceded him. "You may have had a disagreement with Bill Clinton or Al Gore or the Democratic leadership of Congress ... but that's not me. I've fought with you; I've been with you on a range of issues, and you should judge me by my record in the Senate," the aide quoted Kerry as saying.
Hours later, Nader asserted a rationale for his candidacy in a speech at George Mason University in suburban Virginia, telling an audience of college students that the Democratic Party has lost its convictions and has been losing elections at all levels at a brisk pace.
"Now they tell us, "Trust us, we'll try to win this time," Nader said. "The country can't trust them anymore."
Nader also spoke with contempt for Bush while sparing Kerry, faulting the president's "messianic militarism" and accusing him of betraying the country's social and economic needs for the sake of the war on terrorism.
On Wednesday, Kerry said he believes his candidacy will attract Nader's supporters and "reduce any rationale" for the independent's candidacy. Kerry said he would never ask another candidate to bow out of the race.
"I have never suggested that any candidate get out or get in or behave in any particular way," Kerry told the AP before meeting with Nader. Several Democrats have urged Nader to abandon his bid, convinced that his run in 2000 cost Democrat Al Gore the presidency.
Senior Democrats say they have been mapping a weeks-long campaign by party operatives to pressure Nader publicly and privately to abandon his quest. Their argument is that votes for Nader drain the Democratic pool and tip the balance to Bush. Nader dismisses the suggestion that he cost Gore the election in 2000, saying Gore was his own downfall.
The effort to convince Nader to quit, being formulated by Democrats not aligned with the Kerry campaign, may include television commercials and challenging Nader's efforts to get on state ballots, the Democrats said on condition of anonymity.
The relationship between the two camps is delicate, with some fearing heavy pressure to exit could stiffen Nader to stay in the race. Last week, the national Reform Party (search) endorsed Nader, enabling him to gain access to the ballot in at least seven states, including the battlegrounds of Florida and Michigan.
Before the meeting, Kerry said he would court voters inclined to support Nader.
"It's my intention to speak very directly to those people who voted for Ralph Nader last time," Kerry said. "I believe my campaign can appeal to them and frankly reduce any rationale for his candidacy."
One of his arguments, Kerry said, is that Nader's presence on the ballot makes it more likely that Bush will be re-elected.
"In the end, I hope I can make people aware that a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush," Kerry said. "A vote for John Kerry is a vote for the principles and values they care about."
The aide said the conversation was straightforward and not at all contentious. Kerry said he forcefully urged Nader to help him in his quest, to which Nader responded that he is already helping him "by doing what I'm doing." They agreed they would talk in the future and keep the dialogue open.
The aide said the conversation stayed on issues the two agree about, and had a long discussion about corporate welfare and consumer rights. The two did not address Iraq, the aide said. Kerry has proposed internationalizing the effort in Iraq while Nader has said that he would pull out U.S. forces.
The aide said Nader made the point that he had ways he could go after Bush that Kerry could not, though Nader did not elaborate. He also suggested that the debates be open to more than just Kerry and Bush. Kerry responded that he has been challenging Bush to debate him once a month. Bush hasn't responded to the challenge and Kerry has not discussed debate schedules with anyone else, the aide said.
Fox News' Ellen Uchimiya and The Associated Press contributed to this report.