The Nader 'Threat' Ralph Nader's entry into the presidential race stirs bitter memories for many Democrats who believe his candidacy cost Al Gore the election eight years ago. We look at the disputed 2000 election in Florida and gauge readers' reactions to the role superdelegates might play in 2008.
NPR logo The Nader 'Threat'

The Nader 'Threat'

Democrats will always cite Nader's 2000 campaign — and his showing in Florida — as the reason why George W. Bush, not Al Gore, won the White House. hide caption

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Orin Lehman's death brings back memories of a fun Daniel Patrick Moynihan moment. hide caption

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The founder of the modern day conservative movement died Wednesday at 82. hide caption

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Twenty-seven years ago today, California's Manatt is elected chairman of the DNC. hide caption

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It's quite a spectacle to see the reaction from ordinarily calm people of the news that Ralph Nader is launching another bid for president.

The sheer horror — usually from Democrats, sometimes from journalists — stems of course from 2000, when Nader's independent candidacy drew some 97,488 votes in Florida, a state that George W. Bush won by 537 votes, enough to give him the presidency over Al Gore, the Democratic nominee. Many people say that had he not been on the ballot, far more of Nader's votes would have gone to Gore, which is probably true.

At the same time, Nader — as he has been saying since 2000 — deflects any blame or responsibility for the Bush years, insisting that there was really not much difference between Bush and Gore, and if anyone was to blame for Gore's defeat it should be the former vice president himself, who failed to win his own home state of Tennessee. Plus, as Nader said on Sunday in announcing his candidacy on NBC's Meet the Press, surely the 250,000 Democrats in the Sunshine State who voted for Bush should share in the role as spoilers as well.

Part of what's driving Nader is of course his belief that both major parties suffer from, and are controlled by, corporate greed. But he clearly has an ax to grind with the Democrats, who expended a lot of effort when he ran again in 2004 to keep him from as many ballots as they could. Nader, who took about 2.7 percent of the national vote in 2000, could only get 0.3 percent four years later, when he competed in only 34 states.

Democrats' dislike of Nader remains visceral, and they will no doubt do whatever they can to once again limit his ballot access. Asked on Sunday how he would feel if he were responsible for, say, the election of John McCain over Barack Obama, Nader said, "If the Democrats can't landslide the Republicans this year, they ought to just wrap up, close down, emerge in a different form."

But Florida 2000 will always be part of his legacy. The truth is, the 97,000-plus votes he got there represented just 1.6 percent of the total. He drew far larger percentages that year in Alaska (10.1 percent), Vermont (6.9), Massachusetts (6.4) and Rhode Island (6.1). In six states — Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia — he exceeded 5 percent of the vote. But it's Florida, with its chads, butterflies and Katherine Harris, that will always be a reminder of "what if." As David Ogden of Walnut Creek, Calif., writes, "If there's one person responsible for the Bush mess (other than Bush himself), it's Nader."

Then again, Brian Conner of Boston writes, "Every time I pick up a newspaper there's another reason why Al Gore lost. It was his inability to win Tennessee or Arkansas. It was the gun lobby. It was Ralph Nader. It was Bill Clinton's moral failures. The truth is, Al Gore lost in 2000 because he stunk as a candidate. He's the reason why we have George W. Bush."

FOR THE RECORD: Here is a list of the other candidates on the Florida 2000 ballot, besides Ralph Nader, who received more than the 537 votes that separated Bush and Gore:

Pat Buchanan (Reform) - 17,484
Harry Browne (Libertarian) - 16,415
Monica Moorehead (Workers World) - 1,804
Howard Phillips (Constitutional) - 1,371
David McReynolds (Socialist) - 622
James Harris (Socialist Workers) - 562

PRESCIENT: Back when this column ran on the Washington Post Web site, I received a question about Nader's potential influence in the 2000 race. This question and answer appeared in my June 30, 2000, column:

Question: Why are the media ignoring Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader? More attention is given to Pat Buchanan, and yet he is losing to Nader in the polls. - Michelle Kenyon, Iowa City, Iowa
Answer: There has been more coverage of Buchanan up to now because, for much of the year, he has been a better story. His defection from the GOP, takeover of the Reform Party and battles with the old-line Perot loyalists have been great to watch — especially when the suspense over who would be the Democratic and Republican nominees had long ended.
Nader got into the race much later. But Vice President Gore's support for the administration's China trade deal has greatly disappointed labor leaders, giving Nader new media exposure and an unanticipated opportunity. The recent joint appearance by Teamsters President James Hoffa and Nader at a news conference may have been designed more to send a message to Gore than to suggest a forthcoming labor endorsement of Nader. But the longtime consumer advocate is clearly running a more energetic and committed race this time than he did in '96, and most observers agree that every vote he gets is taken out of Gore's hide. In that sense, Nader's influence in the campaign may be far greater than that of Buchanan, who draws from both parties (though more from Republicans) and who at this point seems less of a factor. While neither seems destined for the fall debates, there is no question that the Bush camp would love to see Nader included.

SUPERDELEGATES: A lot of mail continues to arrive in response to the Feb. 13 column about the role superdelegates could play in determining the Democratic presidential nomination.

Steven Mihaylo of Boulder, Colo.: "If superdelegates go against the clear will of the people and choose Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama, even if he has won many more delegates and states, I will see it as a serious sabotage of the democratic process. If Hillary pressures superdelegates to nominate her beyond the wishes of the majority of voters, it will demonstrate that she is also willing to use the tactics of George Bush and Karl Rove, stealing elections GOP-style."

Terri Harrison of Homosassa, Fla.: "I am considerably bothered by the DNC's debate about whether to 'resolve' the nominating process with superdelegate selection. Let the process continue and let the PEOPLE have their say."

Henry Kerfoot of Huntington Beach, Calif.: "The practice of superdelegates is all about thwarting change and ensuring the status quo. I am going to vote Republican if the Democratic race is decided by superdelegates."

Roger Dreisbach-Williams of Easton, Pa.: "Let the calendar run its course and every voter have the opportunity to make a difference. Let's wait until after April 22 [the date of the Pennsylvania primary]. At that point we'll have a clearer sense of how things stand. If one candidate has a significant lead, then I will expect him or her to be the presumptive nominee. If at that point there is a virtual tie, only then should it be the responsibility of the superdelegates to caucus, determine which candidate is the strongest, and work out an accommodation with the candidate not selected."

Marc Paley of Newport, Wash.: "The mere idea of superdelegates deciding the Democratic nominee is so incendiary. If they can take away the majority determined by the primaries, then what kind of a democracy is this?"

In case anyone missed the links from last week's column, here are two easy ways to find a complete listing of Democratic convention superdelegates:

One is a Web site called 2008 Democratic Convention Watch, which lists delegates by whom they have committed to, as well as a list of the uncommitted. It can be found here.

The other is from The Washington Post. It can be found here.

CLEMENS FOR VP? OK, so perhaps last week's column about Roger Clemens being the logical running mate for John McCain was a bit tongue-in-cheek. To Michael Levine of New York City, it made complete sense: "After all, they have so much in common, such as being investigated and testifying before congressional committees." Ditto for Linda Anderson of Portland, Ore.: "He's a liar and he has embarrassed his profession. He's perfect for the Republicans."

THIS WEEK'S TRIVIA QUESTION: As heard Wednesday on Talk of the Nation: What do Fidel Castro and former Arizona Gov. Jack Williams have in common? Answer below.

Now, time to hear from the readers.

Q: How can Texas have both a Democratic primary and a caucus on the same day? - Joel Tabb, Slaterville Springs, N.Y.

A: There have been quite a few instances this year, especially when it comes to caucuses, where confusion reigned supreme. A good example is Nevada, which Hillary Clinton won but Barack Obama came away with more delegates. Texas, on March 4, has the potential for an even more confusing result.

Tuesday's primary will allocate 126 delegates, elected from the state's 31 state senatorial districts. After the polls close, another 67 delegates will be selected via caucus. First of all, you should know that not all senatorial districts in Texas are created equal; the number of delegates per district is decided by how Democrats have fared there in the past. Urban areas in Houston, for example, or liberal enclaves such as Austin, have more delegates than, say, Republican strongholds. Voters who participate in the primary may then return in the evening for caucuses, a process that has proven thus far to be more beneficial to Obama. It's hard to make the case that Texas is going to be the place that rescues the Clinton candidacy.

Q: As of this writing, Hillary Clinton has lost 11 primaries and caucuses in a row. Has anyone ever had as many consecutive defeats and still gone on to win the nomination? - Michael Cassidy, Richmond, Va.

A: No, not since 1972, when primaries began determining whom the nominee would be. In 1968, of course, Vice President Hubert Humphrey failed to win a single primary — nor did he even compete in any — but he wound up as the Democratic nominee. The reforms that came after that election made sure that would never happen again.

Q: Why do different news organizations have different totals of delegates for each candidate? All seem to agree on what's needed to be nominated, but so many of them —,, and — all have different totals for the candidates. - Vince Ferguson, Portland, Ore.

A: Part of it has to do with different calculations about how caucus delegates have been allocated, part of it is about what the organizations hear from superdelegates. The candidates have their own counts as well. NPR does not have its own "delegate counters," so we rely on the Associated Press. Here's the delegate breakdown as of this writing (including superdelegates on the Democratic side), as per the AP:

Needed to nominate - 2,025
Obama - 1,372
Clinton - 1,274
Others, uncommitted - 90

Needed to nominate - 1,191
McCain - 1,013
Huckabee - 257
Paul - 14
Others, uncommitted - 279

Q: Is Chelsea Clinton a superdelegate? - Douglas Fisher

A: No.

Q: It seems like the longer Mike Huckabee stays in the Republican race, the less likely he'll be named to the ticket as vice president. Won't the ill will he's creating by extending McCain's nomination fight hurt his chances of becoming VP? - Leo Wong, San Francisco, Calif.

A: Huckabee argues that he represents a wing of the Republican Party that needs to be heard in the primaries until McCain gets the 1,191 delegates needed to clinch. The 37 percent he received in Wisconsin suggests as much. I'm not convinced his staying in the race is causing much ill will in the party, especially since he has not resorted to attacking McCain or disparaging him personally. But I'm not convinced he is being seriously considered for VP either. In fact, I would argue that he won't merit serious consideration to be on the ticket at all (which will be the subject of a future column).

BILL BUCKLEY DIES: William F. Buckley Jr., the modern day founder of the American conservative movement, died today at the age of 82. In the early 1950s, Buckley wrote his classic, God and Man at Yale, an attack on his alma mater from the right, and he co-wrote, with brother-in-law L. Brent Bozell, McCarthy and His Enemies, a not-completely unsympathetic book about Sen. Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin Republican known for his attacks on communists, real and imagined, in the U.S. government. In 1955 Buckley founded National Review, a conservative magazine that continues to this day. Ten years later, he made a half-serious bid to become mayor of New York City as the candidate of the recently formed Conservative Party. Never expecting to win, he spent nearly all of the campaign trying to get under the skin of John Lindsay, the liberal Republican congressman who would go on to win. Asked what would happen if lightning struck and he actually was elected, Buckley famously said, "I'd demand a recount."

NOW THERE ARE NONE: Orin Lehman died last Friday. Now, I concede that this name may not ring a bell for those who are anything but the junkiest of political junkies, though for the record he was the longest serving New York State Commissioner of Parks and Recreation in history. And if the last name is familiar, it should be; his great uncle was the late Herbert Lehman (D), a former New York governor and senator. I hadn't thought about Orin Lehman in quite some time. But when I read about his passing, it reminded me of a story that brought a smile to my face.

Years ago, when I was with ABC News and covering Congress, I found myself in the Capitol's Statuary Hall during the first of President George H.W. Bush's State of the Union messages, along with scores of other reporters and camera crews. It was the place where we all set up shop, awaiting lawmakers as they were leaving the House chamber to get their comments, reactions and wisdom.

It's a ritual that continues to this day. But the most sought-after "get" on this particular evening, Jan. 31, 1990, was Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY). His new proposal to cut Social Security payroll taxes — offered because of his objections that Social Security trust fund surpluses were being used to finance the Bush budget deficits — was strongly opposed by the president and his administration. It was the buzz of Washington. I remember eagerly awaiting Moynihan's appearance in the hall, all of us reporters ready to pounce on him upon his entry. And that's exactly what happened; he was besieged by dozens of us. Everybody was calling out his name, hoping to get his attention for an interview. As he was weighing all the requests, I realized I had to come up with a different approach. So I yelled out that ABC wanted to talk to him about the Screvane-Lehman-Moynihan campaign of 1965.

Moynihan stopped dead in his tracks. He said he could never turn down anyone who remembered that campaign.

For all of Moynihan's successes — elected (through 1990) three times to the Senate from New York, a former United Nations ambassador, an expert on urban life — the one blot on his record was an ill-fated bid for New York's City council president in the 1965 Democratic primary. He ran on a ticket led by Paul Screvane, the incumbent council president, who was running for mayor, and included Orin Lehman, who was seeking to become city comptroller. All three were defeated: Screvane by Abe Beame, Lehman by Mario Procaccino, and Moynihan by Frank O'Connor.

What happened in that 1965 primary campaign really was not the issue; if you asked me what the candidates argued about back then I couldn't tell you. But Moynihan heard something from his past that made him smile, and it got me the interview.

Screvane died in November 2001. Moynihan, who had retired from the Senate after 2000, died in March 2003. And now Lehman is gone. I hadn't thought about Lehman in years. But I never forgot this story, or Moynihan's face when I shouted out those names to him.

TRIVIA ANSWER: What does Fidel Castro and former Arizona Gov. Jack Williams have in common? Both were succeeded by a fellow named Raul Castro.

Speaking of trivia, the Hotline had a good one the other day in the wake of the primary defeat of Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD). The 33 percent tally of Gilchrest, they wrote, was the worst primary showing of any House incumbent (not related to redistricting) since Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-CA) received 29 percent in 2000.

And this from Doug Brin of New York City: If the general election is between Barack Obama and John McCain, it will be the first time that a presidential candidate — let alone both candidates — will have been born outside the contiguous 48 states. Both have spent over five years abroad (Obama's childhood in Indonesia and McCain as a prisoner of war in Hanoi). And the 25 years' difference between the two candidates is the greatest gap ever.

ON WISCONSIN: On Wisconsin Public Radio, that is. Good news to report: Kathleen Dunn, the delightful host of WPR's Ideas Network program heard weekday mornings out of Madison who suffered a heart attack in January, has fully recovered and returned to work. Sad news: Her first guest on her first day back, on Feb. 26, was Ken Rudin. (You can hear the program at


March 4 - Primaries in Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont and Texas. Ohio and Texas also hold state and congressional primaries.

March 8 - Democratic caucuses in Wyoming. Also:

Special election in Illinois' 14th Congressional District to succeed Dennis Hastert (R), who resigned. Candidates: Jim Oberweis (R) vs. Bill Foster (D);

Special primary election in Louisiana's 1st CD to succeed Bobby Jindal (R), who was elected governor; and

Special primary election in Louisiana's 6th CD to succeed Richard Baker (R), who resigned.

March 11 - Mississippi presidential and congressional primaries. Also:

Special election in Indiana's 7th CD to succeed the late Julia Carson (D). Candidates: Andre Carson (Julia's grandson) (D) vs. Jon Elrod (R).

IF IT'S WEDNESDAY, IT'S "JUNKIE" TIME ON TOTN: Reading this column is bad enough; you can also hear a "Political Junkie" segment every Wednesday on Talk of the Nation, NPR's live call-in program, at 2 p.m. ET. If your local NPR station doesn't carry TOTN, you can still hear it on the Web.

IT'S ALL POLITICS: That's the name of our weekly political podcast. It's a combination of brilliant analysis and sophisticated humor, hosted each week by NPR's Ron Elving and me. It goes up on the Web site every Thursday and can be heard here. Want to subscribe? It's easy, and it's free! Go to the iTunes Web site, type in the name of the podcast — or just "Ken Rudin" — and voila. You'll be hooked! Join the dozens of listeners around the world by subscribing!

And there's this helpful suggestion from Barry Yau at the University of Warwick in Coventry, the United Kingdom: "Your podcast should come with a warning label: DO NOT LISTEN IN PUBLIC. That's because I can't help laughing out loud at the witty, yet informative, banter between you and Ron Elving. Of all the podcasts I subscribe to, yours is the one I look forward to the most!"

And here's another tribute from overseas, which further proves why we need stricter immigration laws. This one, from Gregory Veevers of Ottawa, Ontario, reads, "I would just like to say how much I enjoy both your Political Junkie column and 'It's All Politics.' In my opinion, they offer the best insight and analysis into the world of politics that I have been able to find yet. I am also proud to say that I listen to each podcast at least five times."

Finally, here's a domestic comment from Sue Anna Langenberg of Freeport, Ill.: "Thanks for helping my rather long work commute to be fun. I laugh out loud on the road as your wry comments are backed by a wealth of information. Sometimes your extensive political knowledge outruns your ability to express it and even the stutters are entertaining! Keep up the good work!"


******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state. *********

This day in political history: Charles Manatt, a former chair of the California Democratic Party, is elected to lead the Democratic National Committee (Feb. 27, 1981). He replaces John White, who was criticized for his open support for then-President Carter during his primary battle with Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1980.

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: