October 17Despite being stuck at 5 percent or less in the national polls, Ralph Nader has given supporters reason to believe he will squeak over the threshold needed for the Green Party to get federal funding in the next presidential election.
Here's their reasoning: Nader will appeal to "none of the above" voters, those people who pick a trip to the pool hall or corner bar over a trek to the voting booth. These people never show up in polls of likely voters, so Nader's numbers are stronger than they appear. Some of these are union rank and file who, because of the current administration's drive to lower the barriers to foreign trade, wouldn't be caught dead voting for Democrat Al Gore. In addition, Nader is likely to draw heavily from campus votersanother group that makes but a glancing appearance in the polls.
Nader spokespeople say the consumer advocate has organized anywhere from 800 to 850 college campuses, and has 25,000 university students working for him. Since Nader doesn't get much publicity, his campaign operatives are staging teach-ins and using his exclusion from the debates to drum up support. They have held rallies on 75 college campuses to protest his absence from the Boston face-off.
Students by the thousands are signing petitions demanding that Nader be allowed to debate, and organizers are sending in surrogates to speak on his behalf. On October 19, for example, Cornel West and Frances Fox Piven will debate Gore surrogates at the Judson Church on Washington Square South in New York.
In addition, Nader's longtime support for public-interest research groups, based on college campuses in more than 20 states, is paying off. In New York last week, NYPIRG helped bring people into Madison Square Garden superrally, which ended up crammed with more than 15,000 people.
Recent Zogby polls show Nader pulling 21 percent of voters who think of themselves as progressives, 10 percent of independents, and 15 percent of college-age voters. "We're on the cusp," says Steve Cobble, the consultant who masterminded Jesse Jackson's 1988 populist drive, and chief strategist for Nader this time around. Cobble points out that Nader must actually rack up more than 5 percent in states where he's running because he's not on the ballot in several key places: Oklahoma, South Dakota, Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana, and Idaho.
According to Cobble, Nader is hurting not Gore but Republican George W. Bush, because the Green candidate is drawing from the pool of people who supported Ross Perot in 1996. The Texas billionaire drew 8 percent of the vote that year. Cobble argues that without the option of casting a ballot for Nader, Perot backers would go for Shrub.
Cobble is desperately trying to line up more money to advertise the consumer crusader, and has been talking to wealthy environmentalists in hopes they will open deep pockets to pay for issue ads. So far: No luck.