WASHINGTON — Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader is quietly making headway in his third bid for president.
He clinched a major victory last Saturday by getting on the California ballot as the nominee of the Peace and Freedom Party. In 2004, Nader wasn't on California's ballot — a state receptive to his antiwar, anti-corporate message — and was on the ballot in only 34 states. He said Wednesday that he's confident of getting on the ballot in 45 states this year.
With the major-party candidates in a close race, Nader could have an impact, perhaps as dramatic as in 2000, when the then-Green Party nominee received more than 97,000 votes in Florida, which Democratic nominee Al Gore lost by 537 votes to George W. Bush. That gave Bush an Electoral College majority and the White House.
Nader is at 3 percent in one recent poll and 6 percent in another.
True to form, however, he's complaining about being excluded from the presidential debates, paid for, he noted, by a "corporate duopoly" of the Democratic and Republican parties.
"Why do we ration debates in this country?" he asked. "You can only reach 2 percent of the public without debates."
The Commission on Presidential Debates stipulates that participants must have 15 percent support in national polls to be eligible.
Nader accuses the news media of being in a "cultural rut" by ignoring him. He said he'd been on national television only 10 seconds this election cycle.
"Put me in all the debates and we'll have a three-way race," Nader said of likely Democratic nominee Barack Obama and Republican nominee John McCain.
An AP-Ipsos poll released Tuesday shows Obama with a 6-point lead over McCain and Nader at 3 percent among registered voters. Recent CNN/Opinion Research polls scored Nader's support at 6 percent.
His critics worry about a repeat of 2000.
Nader, who's called Bush a "raging pit bull," hates the spoiler label that's been hung on him since that election, saying it's "a contemptuous word of political bigotry."
As for Obama, Nader said he "lost all respect for him" when the Illinois senator spoke out against impeaching Bush. Nader supports impeachment because of how Bush handled the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
While Nader doesn't seem to face a concerted Democratic campaign to block him from state ballots, as he did in 2004, so far he's on only 12 state ballots, according to the newsletter Ballot Access News. Nader campaign spokesman Chris Driscoll said signatures had been submitted in 26 states and that the campaign was on track to win access in 45 states.
In 2004 Nader received 463,653 votes, 0.4 percent of the total. In 2000, he received 2,882,955, 2.74 percent of the popular vote.
Political analyst Larry Sabato takes a jaundiced view of Nader's latest run.
"People aren't stupid," said Sabato, the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "They're not going to throw their vote away. It's August, not November. When it matters in November, people will abandon third-party candidates."
Texas billionaire Ross Perot won more than 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992, but Sabato said he was an exception.
American University history professor Allan J. Lichtman thinks Nader still has a "limited appeal" to those who "are sick and tired of politics as usual."
And, Claremont McKenna University professor Jack Pitney said, as unlikely as he thinks a 2000 repeat is, "you can't completely rule out a Nader effect."