WASHINGTON -- The Democratic Party's powerful legal corps, mobilized for action in Florida ever since the 2000 recount, struck with fury in a Tallahassee courtroom last week. Helped by a cooperative judge, the Democratic lawyers scored a temporary victory. The adversary was not the Republican Party but Ralph Nader, the lawyers getting his independent presidential candidacy off the ballot for now. That is part of a larger struggle with unintended negative consequences for John Kerry's campaign.
Florida is just the latest skirmish. Hundreds of Democratic lawyers, organized to enter the courts against George W. Bush on Election Day, now are busy denying Nader ballot access everywhere they can. The mighty General Motors Corp. unleashed a fierce personal attack on Nader when he was a crusading young consumer lawyer, and GM ended up losing the public relations war. Nader sees Democrats making the same mistake.
Whether or not Nader's prediction proves accurate, a more concrete problem faces Democrats. The party's limitation of Nader's ballot access has been most successful in non-battleground states. That keeps the independent candidate away from states where either President Bush or Sen. Kerry will win easily. Nader then is forced to concentrate on closely contested states where he could take away enough votes from Kerry to carry them for Bush, conceivably giving him a second term.
The Democrats have been able to keep Nader out of these states: Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, New Jersey, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia (with only Arizona in the battleground category). Since Nader is not running to be elected but to preach a left-wing gospel that he feels Kerry neglects, he would have campaigned in all these states were he permitted on their ballots. Until thrown off in Texas, Nader planned heavy campaigning against the president in his own state. His campaign was going to open an office in Crawford, Bush's hometown.
It is not that Democratic lawyers have ignored closely contested states, witness what happened last week in battleground Florida. The Nader campaign was taken by surprise in Tallahassee, without a lawyer to face 10 Democratic attorneys and a judge willing to accept all their arguments. Nevertheless, the odds are that Nader's name will end up on the Florida ballot.
Despite Democratic obstruction, Nader definitely will be drawing votes from Kerry in these contested states: Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire and West Virginia. Besides Florida, Nader expects also to get on the ballot in the battleground states of New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.