If the race for the White House was won by whoever
drew the biggest crowd there would be no contest.
The next president would be a gaunt man in a crumpled
suit who travels on discounted senior citizen's
tickets and delivers long, rambling speeches. He is
Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate turned Green Party
presidential candidate, whose reception is starting to
make Al Gore feel uneasy.
At a rally in Boston on Sunday 12,000 supporters
turned out to protest againt his exclusion from the
first presidential debate.
But Mr Nader, who became a household name after his
assault on safety in the car industry in the 1960s and
is responsible for scores of consumer protection laws,
does not expect to win the election. Yet he does hope
to win 5 per cent of the vote to qualify for federal
funds at the next election.
Mr Nader presently hovers just below 5 per cent in the
polls and has that level of support in key
battleground states where there is little to choose
between Mr Bush and Mr Gore.
With the election looking extremely tight and most of
Mr Nader's support coming from people who would
otherwise vote for Mr Gore, he has the potential to
take votes that could let Mr Bush into the White
Mr Nader cares not a bit. He is scathing of both
candidates calling them "Republicrats" and "Tweedledum
and Tweedledee". He whips up the crowd by denouncing
Mr Bush as "a corporation running for president
disguised as a person."
He added: "I can understand why George W is for
education - he needs it."
But his sharpest criticism is reserved for Mr Gore,
whose record on the environment - regarded by the Vice
President as his strong suit - he describes as
"atrocious". He scoffs: "This guy doesn't know what it
means to stand up and have a modicum of courage. He
says he is going to fight big oil. Yeah, and I have
got a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell to you."
Mr Nader believes an "oligarchy" of big corporations
is running America and he speaks widely about the ills
he perceives they inflict on the country - from lead
paint poisoning to hooking children on fatty foods,
from killing people with cancer to building fighter
jets that are not needed.
Most of the crowd at the rally are young, but there
are plenty of greying ponytails too. Hollywood stars
such as Tim Robbins, Danny Glover and Susan Sarandon
have joined his cause and Michael Moore, the director
of Roger and Me, serves as his warm- up act.
"Slackers can change this country," he tells the
students, commending them for getting off the sofa and
urging them to spread their passion.
Mr Nader makes much of the victory of Jesse Ventura,
the former wrestler who won the governorship of
Minnesota after he was allowed into the television
debates. He believes his support would also leap if he
was allowed in to debate, but the offical
qualification is a 15 per cent share of the vote in
It is, he believes, just another conspiracy by the two
mainpolitical parties. "Imagine in the marketplace,
you get a new competitor, wants to reach his customers
and has to go through a gate whose keys are held by
the two major competitors. Never again should we allow
this to happen in future campaigns, never again," he
says. On this he is joined by Pat Buchanan, the
right-wing Reform Party candidate who languishes on 1
per cent in the polls. Mr Nader decries the influence
of corporate money in the process and says that he
will build a war chest for the future from individual
donations. But it might take him a long time.
The poncho wearers in the hall are not a deep-pocketed
lot. When the crowd is asked "who here will donate
$1,000" not a single hand is raised.
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