Ralph Nader received 13,421 votes in Arkansas for his 2000 bid for U.S. President. That gave him 1 percent of the state election total, which was not enough to make a difference in the race - George W. Bush got 51 percent to Al Gore's 46 percent - but it was a comfortable third-place showing.
Four years later, Nader is trying again, although the circumstances are different in several key ways, beginning with his party identification. When he ran in 2000, Nader was the nominee of the Green Party, which is trying to establish itself as a viable third party in this country.
The Greens describe themselves as being "committed to environmentalism, non-violence, social justice and grassroots organizing," and they are usually positioned to the left of the major party candidates for federal office. After eight years of peace and economic growth, the differences between Gore (a centrist Democrat) and Bush (a "compassionate conservative") were difficult to discern, and many liberals preferred Nader. As it turned out, Nader garnered enough votes in Florida to be a deciding factor in the election drama there. (Bush and Gore finished in a virtual dead heat; Nader had 2 percent of the vote.) While it is impossible to know whether Nader voters would have given their support to Gore if Nader had not been on the ballot, many political commentators have argued that Nader helped secure Bush's victory.
This year, Nader decided to shun the Green Party's nomination (though he asked for its "endorsement") and run as an independent. His move was based partially on his frustrations with the party organization, but he also expressed a desire to appeal to a broader base of disaffected voters. He has been endorsed by the Reform Party, the organization created for Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign that has slightly different priorities than the Greens. For instance, the current "founding principles" of the Reform Party include term limits and lobbying reform.
Nader wanted the endorsement of the Green Party, even if he did not seek its formal nomination, because it would get him on the ballot in the 23 states where the Greens are guaranteed access based on their performance in previous elections. However, the Green Party decided to nominate someone else at its national convention last weekend. That leaves Nader with the seven states where the Reform Party currently has slots reserved, and he will have to mount organized efforts to get on the ballot in other states.
Tim Humphries of the Arkansas secretary of state's office confirms that the Nader campaign has been in touch with him about securing a place on the November ballot. Apparently they were pleased to hear that the process is one of the easiest in the nation. Nader workers simply have to file a petition containing the signatures of 1,000 Arkansas registered voters by Aug. 2. Then that group needs to have a convention to choose its nominees for president and vice-president, and notify the Secretary of State of its selections by Sept. 15.
So Nader's name may again be on the candidate roster this year. But how serious is his effort here going to be, and will he be able to equal his support from 2000?
Judging from his recent statements, Nader is going after a narrow niche: the anti-corporate, anti-Clinton vote. During a June 18 press conference in Little Rock, Nader spent most of his time condemning Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods, and managed to work in a cryptic dig at Bill Clinton. (Responding to a question about his chances to actually win the White House, Nader said, "I'm not into clairvoyance. Maybe Bill Clinton is into clairvoyance, among his other traits.")
Anti-Clinton invective is a theme for Nader this year. Under the heading, "The Clinton Record - Let's Not Forget," the Nader for President website lists "20 actions and inactions during [Clinton's presidency] that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney would have approved." This is not the kind of Clinton-bashing that is designed to appeal to conservatives; instead it is aimed at voters who feel that Clinton was insufficiently liberal.
Considering that Clinton won Arkansas by convincing margins in 1992 and 1996 and that he's not on the ballot this time, Clinton attacks would seem an unproductive political strategy here. It certainly will not help Nader attract Democrats, who already are primed to reject him for his perceived complicity in Bush's election. Ron Oliver, the chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, has been telling anyone who will listen that "a vote for Ralph Nader is a vote for George Bush."
Repeated phone and e-mail messages left for Nader's press aide were not returned, but an official at the Washington campaign headquarters said that while there is no state coordinator in Arkansas yet, the campaign is currently accepting resumes for what will be an unpaid position.
Arkansas hasn't helped Nader financially so far, unlike some other states where Republicans have contributed to his cause to promote him as a Democratic spoiler. Filings with the Federal Election Commission show that Nader has raised only $2,200 in identifiable contributions from Arkansans. The bulk of that money comes from Margaret Cotton, a Bentonville schoolteacher who gave him $2,000 (the maximum) in February.
Without money, a party apparatus, and a broadly appealing message, Nader may not garner many votes in Arkansas this year. But the state's relaxed ballot access requirements practically ensure he will be a choice for president. In a close election, the votes that Nader receives could make a difference. And 2000 proved the value of Arkansas's six electoral votes.