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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Ralph Nader and Campaign '96

Air Date: Week of

Ralph Nader was up for the presidential candidacy for the Green Party in California. Bill Drummond reports on the party's recent convention and its results. Did Nader get the nod, and are other states driving ahead for the consumer advocate?


CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. There's an insurgent political movement afoot that could shake up this year's presidential race. And it doesn't involve Ross Perot or Colin Powell. The movement is the Green Party and the candidate is Ralph Nader. In late June Greens in California joined their fellows in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Oregon, by putting Mr. Nader's name on the ballot, and the Greens hope to add at least 30 other states to the list. This could be bad news for Bill Clinton, especially in the nation's largest state. Polls suggest Mr. Nader could cut deeply into the President's support in California, and that would help Bob Dole. But the Greens are far from united, as reporter William Drummond observed during the recent California Nominating Convention.

(Synchronized clapping and shouting)

DRUMMOND: Despite the cheering inside the Berkeley Veteran's Hall this was hardly a coronation. Even as supporters concede that Mr. Nader's not the ideal candidate -- he's not a member of the Green Party, he has never endorsed the California Green Party's platform, he says he won't accept any campaign contributions, and he didn't even show up at the convention.

MAN: Ralph couldn't be here today but he has faxed us a statement. (Laughter in the background) I'll just read it. "Welcome to the most self-reliant political movement in California. Welcome to a progressive initiative that goes to the central contention of public politics, the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands and what should be done about what Thomas Jefferson called the excesses of the moneyed interests.

DRUMMOND: Last March, Ralph Nader ran unopposed as the Green Party's candidate for president in the primary election. But to get his name on the ballot in November, the nomination had to be endorsed by 80% of the delegates to the convention. Mr. Nader received an unexpected endorsement from a prominent disaffected Democrat, former Congressman Dan Hamberg of the timber-rich first district.

HAMBERG: I want to remind you of something that Ralph Nader said when they asked him how it felt to potentially be a spoiler in 1996. He said you can't spoil something that's already rotten to the core. And the governing institutions of this country are rotten to the core. (Applause and yells)

DRUMMOND: Internally the Green Party is itself divided. The Nader nomination runs up against a deep commitment on the part of many Greens to stay out of statewide and national politics and work instead on building a grassroots party at the county and municipal level. Nevertheless, the expressions of concern eventually gave way to calls for consensus. Delegate Scott Wiesenthal of Santa Cruz warned the convention of the consequences if it backed away from Ralph Nader.

WIESENTHAL: We are in this position now, and it seems like it would be far more damaging to the Green Party to not nominate Ralph Nader than it would be to go ahead and do so. So as someone who's -- who's already expressed concerns, I'd like to ask other people who share my concerns to go ahead and support this proposal for the sake of the Green Party, and for the sake of bringing us all together.

WOMAN: The vote was 72 against 3 for Nader.

MAN 1: That's 96% exactly.

MAN 2: Ralph Nader is again our official presidential nominee. Thank you very much. (Applause and yells)

DRUMMOND: The wide margin of victory for Mr. Nader obscures one important issue. Many Green members are haunted by the prospects of a Bob Dole presidency. The question remains unanswered as to how deep the Nader support will run if it appears that Bill Clifton is in real trouble when election time rolls around. When Scott Wiesenthal suggested that Mr. Nader bow out if President Clinton were in real danger, a rare and almost inaudible display of heckling wafted through the hall.

WIESENTHAL: I hope that if it comes down to November first or second, and the polls look like it's going to be very, very close, that Nader will be willing to step aside in order to not -- I really don't appreciate being hissed. I really don't appreciate that...

DRUMMOND: The Green Party is a tiny entity, with barely 80,000 members in California. Nevertheless, Mr. Nader's name recognition will perhaps win 8% of the total vote in November according to polling estimates. But most political observers say the Nader effect will still be marginal. Ray Wolfinger is a political science professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

WOLFINGER: Unless it's a very narrowly balanced election, the Green label as such isn't going to make any difference. So we're -- especially since the difference between Clinton and Dole on environmental issues is so pronounced, it's not as if Clinton is the hero of the Sierra Club, but the Republican record on environmental issues of course is so bad.

DRUMMOND: The latest findings of the California poll also say that the Nader factor right now is small. The survey released on June 21st said that even with Nader in the race, Bill Clinton leads Bob Dole by 15 percentage points. For Living on Earth, I'm William Drummond in Berkeley.



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