Almost four years ago, Ralph Nader made the leap from consumer watchdog to presidential hopeful. Well known for his rabid advocacy of consumer safety, Nader's celebrity status whipped up enthusiasm for the Green Party; he was especially popular in progressive cities like Portland and Seattle. Declaring he wanted to provide an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, Nader promised to build a viable third political party in the U.S.

However, when all was said and done, Nader gathered little more votes than other independent candidates in previous elections. In 1980, John Anderson, running without the support of any established party, picked up seven percent of the popular vote. (Nader pulled in less than three percent.) Moreover, with the presidential election between Al Gore and George W. Bush hinging on only several hundred votes and a handful of electoral votes, for many, Nader's bid for president quickly soured. Detractors wagged their fingers at him and wondered, "What if?"

Two weeks ago, Nader decided again to jump into the presidential race. He has foregone the Green Party and is running as a true independent.

On Monday, April 5, Nader is hosting a convention in Portland (Roseland, 8 NW 6th Ave, 6 pm). If he can gather 1000 signatures from registered voters, he will be on the November ballot in Oregon. The Mercury talked with Ralph Nader by phone, as he drove between campaign events in North and South Carolina.

Well... it looks like you have some catching up to do.


How's the campaign been going so far?

Well, we're all over North Carolina, and that's a big state. Right now, we're on our way to South Carolina.

Why did you decide to join the race at this late stage in the game?

Well, obviously, politics are broken in our country. People are really fed up with the parties not responding, but they're left only with Republican or Democrat choices. Or, at some levels, only one or the other.

With corporations taking over our government, we have a campaign that provides more voices to the choices, so that the people could support a broad-based agenda of living wage, and national health insurance, and environmental cleanup, and solar energy and so on. And, for the people to reassert their sovereignty and take back their government.

Is "more voices to the choices" your slogan?

That's one.

Is there another one?

Half of democracy is just showing up--showing up to vote, showing up to rallies, showing up for citizen meetings.

The role of the president is the consummate insider. In many ways, you very much represent the quintessential outsider--the one meant to be the watchdog. This seems like where you have been most effective. Why would you want to join the very establishment you criticize?

Three reasons: Because the two parties have been shutting out citizen groups for the past 25 years to where the citizen groups can't get anything done. They now define their rare victories as defensive, rather than in any affirmative, positive ways.

Second, because the two parties are being merged into one corporate entity with two heads wearing different make-up.

And because they're trolling for the same corporate dollars, and in turn for which they are turning the government over to the global corporations.

If your goal is to bring viability to third parties, is there any concern that no longer being with the Green Party weakens the credibility of these independent parties? That maybe they don't have long-term stability?

Well, that's their problem. If they had decided earlier [whether to nominate me] it would have been a different outcome. That doesn't mean that I won't support [Green Party] state and local races. I'll speak well of them.

Why are you no longer with the Green Party?

Because they will not make up their mind until the June convention in Milwaukee if they even want to have a presidential candidate. And if they do, then under what restrictions, [for instance, whether] the candidates should campaign in swing states like Oregon.

Obviously, you are a very principled person. But one of the complaints that I've heard is that we currently have a very principled president--he just doesn't support the principles that many of us agree with. Is there any credibility to the argument that the president should be a moderator to bring together different factions in the country, rather than a principled advocate like yourself?

I don't think Bush is principled at all. He's a big corporation in the White House disguised as a human being. He's made hundreds of decisions where the outcome has been big business against safety, against workers' living wages, against universal health care. That's not what we should have in the White House. One of the goals of this candidacy is to get him out of there.

How do you respond when people say you were a spoiler in the 2000 elections and siphoned votes from Al Gore?

[I respond] in two ways. One, you can't spoil a political system that is spoiled to the core. And two, Gore won the election. But he blundered enough to allow the Republicans to steal it from him. Even if you think that third parties are second-class citizens, they can't be held responsible for retroactive clairvoyance.

So, how do you expect to do better than the last go-around, when you only pulled down roughly three percent of the votes?

Because there are more people who are upset with Bush than were upset with Gore. There are independent liberal Republicans who are furious with him. They represent a lot of people. And we're building on 2000.

But why would the people who are upset with Bush go with you, and not with the Democrats?

In the same way that people who were upset with Gore didn't vote for the Republicans; they voted for me. It's just too big of a leap for them... but an independent candidate is not that big of a leap.

A lot of our readers are between the ages of 20 and 30. How do you plan to engage them?

Talking about universal health insurance, about outsourcing their jobs to China, and about making sure they're growing up in a safe environment with the latest technological controls on emissions and effluence.

We need to expect more than 29 percent of the 18-24 age group to vote. They have to become much more serious about their politics. They have to spend more time learning about candidates--who they want to support and who they want to oppose. We have a Voter Responsibility Project that will be rolling out all over the country.

On a more personal level, I'm one of the candidates for mayor of Portland.

Oh, good. On what ticket? Independent. It's

Oh, very good. You're an independent candidate.

Do you have any advice for me?

Yes. Start immediately on getting out the vote. Immediately start on getting people who will get X number of voters on each street in each neighborhood.

And don't think that if you get a little publicity you're helping your cause that much. It all comes down to how many people that you know by name, and how many people are aiding you to get the vote out.