Ralph Nader, blamed by Democrats for tipping the 2000 election to George Bush, could do it again this year.
Nader is on the ballot in at least 29 states, including Florida and several others that are considered battlegrounds. In some of them, the race is so close that Nader could be a factor.
That would be bad news for John Kerry. Nader draws more support from Kerry than from President Bush.
In most polls, Nader gets about 2 or 3 percent of the vote. That's not enough to qualify for the presidential debates, which require national support of at least 15 percent. But in Florida, Minnesota and other states where the race is tight, Nader could tip the balance.
"In these close states, a candidate getting 1 percent of the vote can make a difference," said Karlyn Bowman, who tracks public opinion for the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
"If we have an election as close as last time, he could matter," said Adam Clymer, political director of the National Annenberg Election Survey.
Nader and his running mate, businessman Peter Miguel Camejo, have qualified for the ballot in 37 states, but litigation is pending in eight of them, according to the Nader campaign. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered a lower court to consider Nader's petition to appear on the ballot.
On Friday, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that he should appear on the state's ballot. Nader is scheduled to visit Pinellas County Sept. 29 and speak at St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.
Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said Monday the campaign has picked up momentum because of success getting on ballots and a recent campaign swing through the Midwest.
"He had big crowds everywhere," Zeese said. "We raised a lot of money. People were really enthusiastic."
Asked if Nader would be a spoiler for the Democrats, Zeese replied, "We are very proud of spoiling a corporate two-party system. You can see in Pennsylvania and Ohio (two states where appeals are pending), the law firms that are fighting us are law firms that primarily give to Republicans."
The Nader campaign has raised about $2.2-million, according to the Federal Election Commission. Included in that number is about $696,000 in federal matching funds that he received for his primary campaigns. (He sought the nomination under different parties to qualify in various states. But he has not qualified for federal grants for the general election.)
In 2000, Nader played a big role in Florida (he got 97,488 votes and Bush won by 537) and New Hampshire (he got 22,198 votes and Bush won by 7,211). Nationally, he received 2.7 percent of the vote.
This time, it's a safe bet that Nader won't get as many votes. Many people who supported him last time, including celebrities Phil Donahue and Susan Sarandon, say they are voting for Kerry.
Some political analysts think Nader won't be much of a factor because so many of his 2000 supporters have abandoned him.
"I think you are going to see the Nader vote whittled to the bone," said Charlie Cook, editor of the Cook Political Report. "I don't think the Nader vote is going to be coming at anybody's expense in this election."
Others say Nader could be the wild card. Polls shows the race is close in Florida, Minnesota and West Virginia, where Nader has qualified for the ballot.
"If it's a very close election, then anything is a factor," said Stephen Hess, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.
Craig Crawford, a political analyst for MSNBC and Congressional Quarterly, said polls show Nader is drawing his support from liberals who might otherwise have voted for Kerry.
Said Crawford, "Nader is the most dangerous to Kerry among liberal voters Kerry is now trying to excite."
The Nader factor
Ralph Nader is on the ballot in 29 states and is on, pending litigation, in eight additional states. Among the states where he has qualified are several considered important battlegrounds, where polls show a tight race.
On the ballot
On ballot in court
Off ballot in court
Off ballot in write-in
No ballot access
Recent poll results
State Nader Bush Kerry Name of poll/date
Florida 2 48 46 St. Pete Times/August
West Virginia 3 44 47 ARG/June
Iowa 2 45 51 CNN-Gallup/August
Minnesota 5 45 44 CNN-Gallup/September
Washington 1 44 52 CNN-Gallup/September
Source: Hotline, Nader campaign