With less than a month before Election Day, independent candidate Ralph Nader is facing ballot battles, dwindling media coverage and waning support on college campuses.
Nader, who unsuccessfully ran for president on the Green Party’s ticket in 2000, is setting his sights on the White House once again as an independent, but with far less support among students, who were some of his biggest supporters. Four years ago, Nader set up 900 college chapters, but this year has only mobilized 250 campus groups to support him.
“I think Nader has more appeal at colleges than anywhere else,” said Sean Aday, assistant professor of media and public affairs. “But at the same time, Nader’s popularity is far less than it was in 2000 because the essential Nader argument doesn’t look as good four years later.”
The “essential Nader argument” refers to the candidate’s often-expressed conviction that Democrats and Republicans are two similar corporate entities fighting for control over the United States.
“The Nader campaign is a tool for change against corporate parties, which take away power from regular citizens,” said Ben Marcus, the national college campus coordinator at the Nader-Camejo 2004 headquarters.
Marcus said that while Nader’s campaign has less visibility on college campuses this election, his chapters are more “hardcore” and willing to fight for him.
“Change is very difficult and it takes a while to make,” he said. “You just have to stand your ground and say, ‘I’m not going to take it anymore.'”
Nader’s message of change, which appeals mainly to more liberal Americans, may be slowly catching at GW. Sophomore Dustin Beruta started a Nader 2004 chapter at the University two weeks ago.
“From what I can see here at GW is that he is less popular here than at other colleges,” Beruta said. “Students that are drawn to GW are either Democrats or Republicans.”
Nader and his vice presidential candidate, Peter Camejo, spoke at the University of Maryland on Sept. 24. Beruta said the UMD speech shows that there is interest in Nader on other campuses, so he may consider taking the GW chapter there for more support.
“When I talk to people who haven’t really heard his ideas before, they end up taking a liking to him,” Beruta said. “I attribute his lack of popularity to the fact that people just don’t know very much about him.”
So far, Beruta’s nascent group has attracted about 10 members, but he hopes that number will increase.
The independent candidate has openly stated his opposition to the war in Iraq, and he has touted a three-point plan to get out of the Middle East country in six months. Nader has also said he wants to de-corporatize the media and government, as well as make college education free and create a universal healthcare system.
“Nader is really the only candidate who has been speaking out against the war from the beginning,” Marcus said. “(John) Kerry has said on many occasions that he will continue in Iraq for the next four years.”
The Nader campaign may woo some liberal voters away from President Bush’s Democratic challenger, Aday said.
“Every piece of evidence we have says that Nader takes more votes from Kerry than Bush,” he said. “Why else do you think it is the Republicans that are trying to get Nader on the ballot anyways? … He takes more votes away from the Democrats than the Republicans for the simple reason that he’s liberal.”
But Aday added that Nader’s effect on the Kerry campaign will be diminished this year, because “so many Democrats who might have been willing to vote for him are so strongly mobilized against Bush, that they won’t vote for him.”
In the weeks after the 2000 election debacle, Democrats criticized Nader for taking votes away from Al Gore in the king-making state of Florida. Whereas Nader garnered about 4 percent of the popular vote in 2000, he is projected to get less than 2 percent this year.
Beruta said he is upset that some Democrats have made efforts to keep Nader off the ballot and discourage him to run, and added that he will post fliers and have meetings to let students know about his candidate’s message.
He said that since the media does not cover Nader and he is not allowed in the debates, “A lot of people don’t really know what he is about.”