The man blamed by many Democrats for costing Al Gore the 2000 election stopped in Tampa on Wednesday to plug his third-party bid for president.
Ralph Nader has not been invited to participate in tonight's televised presidential debate between President Bush and Democrat John Kerry.
But Nader likened his campaign to the abolition, suffrage and labor movements of prior decades, saying it is setting the table for future candidates.
"We're all prisoners of this 200-year-old, two-party dominated electoral college, winner-take-all system," Nader told reporters before addressing a crowd of about 200 people at Centro Asturiano in Ybor City. "It's time to break out of jail.
"It's time for people to vote for candidates they believe in, even if they think these candidates are not going to win, because these voters are laying the groundwork for winning in the future."
But nearly two weeks after winning a Florida Supreme Court fight to stay on the state's ballot, Nader was greeted by a receptive but seemingly more pragmatic audience. Many of them opposed President Bush, and said they fear casting a vote that could result in helping to defeat Kerry.
In the 2000 presidential race Nader received 97,488 votes in Florida, a state Gore lost to Bush by 537 votes.
Carol Noonan, a 26-year-old massage therapist and student at the University of South Florida, said she voted for Nader four years ago. Now her country is in a war she opposes.
She said she does not want Bush back, but said she believes, people should vote for the person they believe in. So as she looked at a piece of campaign literature from Nader urging people to vote their conscience, not their fears, it tugs at her.
"I guess it's my conscience bothering me," Noonan said, explaining her struggle contemplating her choices Nov. 2. "I'd like to stick to my principles but, you know, people are dying."
Similar sentiments were expressed around the auditorium as people in the audience waited for Nader to finish a meal before addressing them.
Doug Currier, 23, a geography student at USF, said Nader addresses many of the problems that affect voters the most, from the corporate control of America to low wages, to protecting the environment. He agrees with Nader on many of the issues.
"I think Nader has the future of the country in mind," Currier said.
Who's he voting for? Not Nader.
While most of the audience was younger and might be considered liberal, there were a few people with gray hair.
Bob Carroll, 62, a Palm Harbour attorney, said he came mainly to hear someone he considers an American hero who has championed consumer rights for decades. But he said he doubts he'll be able to vote for him. Not in Florida.
"Maybe if I lived in another state," Carroll said. He was with two attorney friends who expressed similar sentiments.
In his pre-speech comments to the press, Nader lamented such sentiments, calling filmmaker Michael Moore, who supported his campaign four years ago, a coward for abandoning him now.
He's no spoiler, he said. It's the Democrats' fault for not adopting some of his positions. And those positions:
He's first and foremost for putting the reins on corporate America, which he said has achieved unseemly control over the political system. He's for developing renewable forms of energy, which he said are readily available. He's for preserving the environment, for a living wage, for shrinking a "bloated, redundant" military budget and for getting troops out of Iraq, a war he says is being driven by corporate interests.
He said that earlier Wednesday in Washington, D.C., campaign volunteers dressed as waiters delivered platters to the Kerry camp, each containing those and other issues Democrats should be championing.
"I'm not standing on the sidelines," Nader said. "I'm taking apart George W. Bush in ways the Democrats should be taking (him) apart themselves, but they're too cautious, too unimaginative and too indentured to their corporate contributors to make that broader front against the Bush regime."
So what's the point, if he ends up with 3 percent, as polls suggest? "Any political effort is worthwhile when the alternative is surrender."