WASHINGTON — What's up with Ralph Nader?
The three-time presidential candidate and consumer crusader, mostly under the political radar while hustling a new book of fiction, also has been quietly thinking about doing something completely different: running for the U.S. Senate.
The intriguing prospect of running against embattled Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., in his home state this year has hit a snag, however. Dodd made the surprise announcement Wednesday that he'll be retiring, leaving the race open to a strong Democrat, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.
That has Nader, 75, known for his "spoiler" role in the 2000 presidential election, re-thinking his chances.
"The attraction is a three-way race," Nader said in a telephone interview. His voice raspy from a cold, Nader — "I never get sick" — spoke from his home in Washington. "It's less likely to have a three-way race with such a strong candidate."
Blumenthal, who's held the attorney general position since he was first elected in 1990, has a reputation for pursuing consumer and environmental causes.
Dodd was a more inviting target for Nader, who's among the critics of the chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee for his handling of the financial crisis and for benefiting from a favorable mortgage from scandal-ridden Countrywide Financial Corp.
Nader was looking at a contest as the third option between a weakened Dodd and a Republican opponent; among the candidates is Linda McMahon, former chief executive of World Wrestling Entertainment Inc.
In the 2000 election, Nader, the Green Party nominee, earned more than 97,000 votes in Florida. Democratic nominee Al Gore lost the state — and thus the presidency — to George W. Bush by 537 votes.
Nader hates the "spoiler" label, arguing that a number of factors were in play, including that Gore lost his home state of Tennessee.
As for a Connecticut run, Nader seems untroubled that he's primarily Washington-based, saying that he's often at his family's Winsted, Conn., home and is, in fact, registered to vote in the Nutmeg State.
Even if this year's candidacy may seem remote, Nader clearly has the bug, even if it means he has to wait until 2012.
"The main thing is Lieberman," he said.
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, a former Democrat turned independent, has enraged liberals for his closeness to Republicans, even campaigning with GOP presidential nominee John McCain in 2008, and for supporting Republican positions. He's up for re-election in two years.
In the meantime, Nader continues to lecture and make appearances for his causes, such as single-payer health care, and has just finished a 30-city tour promoting his first work of fiction, "Only the Super Rich Can Save Us," published by Seven Stories Press.
The book uses real-life characters, such as Warren Buffett and Warren Beatty, who use their power and money for the common good.
Nader's selling strategy was to sit in airport bookstores, where the instantly recognizable consumer advocate immediately drew attention.
"I was in Vegas as the National Association of Realtors' convention let out," he said. "I could have sat there for eight hours, signing books."
According to Ruth Weiner, a spokeswoman for the publisher, Nader's 733-page book has sold "incredibly well" and is about two-thirds of the way through its 30,000 printing.
However, political expert Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said that when it came to politics, Nader's career was kaput.
"His role in American politics is very minor to nonexistent," said Sabato, who conceded, "He'll always have a platform."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY
Follow the latest politics news at McClatchy's Planet Washington