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Sagging in some polls, Nader hunts for votes in Minnesota
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Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader spoke to several hundred supporters at two stops in the Twin Cities Thursday night. (MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
The gloves were off for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader Thursday night during two Twin Cities appearances. Nader spoke to hundreds of supporters, first at Macalester College in St. Paul and then at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. He took direct aim at Democrats, Republicans, and corporate interests. Recent polls show Nader struggling to find support in Minnesota -- but he and his supporters say the campaign is about more than winning the race.

St. Paul, Minn. — Nader's Minnesota visit came just days after campaign workers submitted 4,781 signatures supporting his inclusion on the state's ballot this November. There's so far been no challenge to Nader's Minnesota petitions, but that hasn't been the case elsewhere.

In states across the country, Democrats and their allies have gone to court to disqualify the three-time presidential candidate. And Nader says he's frustrated at having to devote time, energy, and money to a ballot-access fight rather than to addressing campaign issues.

During an 80-minute speech at the University of Minnesota, he warned Democrats that their tactics could mushroom into a political scandal that he termed a "mini-Watergate."

"Filing phony lawsuits, intimidating, harassing our signature-gatherers, and in a whole variety of ways demonstrating that these ballot access barriers in state law are just another version of Jim Crow anti-civil rights laws," Nader said.

According to Nader's count, he's on the ballot in 23 states, including Minnesota, and the District of Columbia. He's conceded seven states and is currently fighting for access is the remaining 20.

Democrats say they reserve the right to scrutinize Nader's ballot petitions to ensure he's complied with all statutes and regulations -- and many acknowledge they're motivated by concerns that Nader's candidacy could drain support from Democrat John Kerry, tipping the scales towards President George Bush.

Nobody wants to retire Bush more than I. We have citizen groups who feel the brunt of his corporatist regime every day. I do not trust the Democrats to do it by themselves. I want to show them how to do it.
- Ralph Nader

During a press conference preceding his Macalester appearance, Nader offered a blistering critique of the Bush administration. And he asserted that his candidacy could actually lead Kerry to victory if the Democratic candidate would only follow Nader's populist platform.

"Nobody wants to retire Bush more than I. We have citizen groups who feel the brunt of his corporatist regime every day. I do not trust the Democrats to do it by themselves. I want to show them how to do it," Nader said. "And if they don't pick it up, that means they're just as bad as the Republicans, because they're not defending the country against a militaristic regime."

Nader predicted that Kerry would lose in November if he maintains his current course. He called on Kerry to speak more forcefully against the war in Iraq, and to take a stronger stand against corporations which, Nader says, have corrupted American politics.

Nader's message has played relatively well in Minnesota before, where he captured just over 5 percent of the vote in 2000. That support has slipped substantially this year, with most recent polls showing him hovering at 1 percent.

Ty Moore is the campus coordinator for the University of Minnesota's chapter of Students for Nader. He says it's been harder, this year, to build support -- but that whether Nader wins or loses is less important than offering new choices.

"The overriding task for progressive people -- for the vast majority of workers and young people in the country -- is to build a political alternative to the two-party system, a party that represents the millions against the millionaires. And we have to start somewhere," said Moore.

Moore says a fair number of Nader's supporters seem to have moved to Kerry's camp as part of an "anybody-but-Bush" strategy. Democrats, in fact, have actively encouraged just that. Andrea Johnson is a co-chair of Macalester's College Democrats. She and two dozen others picketed Nader's St. Paul appearance.

"To some extent we are upset with Ralph Nader and just everything he's doing in this election -- and the potential to take some very precious votes away from John Kerry -- in an election where we have to be realistic and realize that it is between George Bush and John Kerry," Johnson said.

In some states, Bush supporters have actively assisted the Nader campaign in hopes of weakening Kerry. But in Minnesota, Republicans so far seem to have stayed out of the feud.

In his Midwestern swing this week, Nader has concentrated on college students. He appeared on two campuses in Wisconsin Thursday before heading to Minnesota. He is scheduled to hit another pair of campuses in Iowa on Friday.

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