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USA: Nader Campaign Draws Big Crowds

by Damian WhitworthTimes of London
October 3rd, 2000

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 House.

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 opinion polls.

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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