Consumer activist and Connecticut native Ralph Nader said Friday he is "absorbing" the reaction he's receiving about a possible bid for the U.S. Senate, saying he wants to first gauge the level of grassroots support before making a decision.
Many people have called on Nader to jump into the hotly contested race to challenge Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd, who has been struggling in recent polls. Nader said he's getting increasingly more requests from Connecticut Green Party members, independents and supporters of Ned Lamont, the upstart Democrat who challenged Sen. Joe Lieberman in the 2006 election.
"I'm just absorbing a lot of the feedback before I make a decision," said Nader, who appeared at the Noah Webster Library in West Hartford, where he was signing his new book, "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!"
More than 100 people turned out to hear Nader talk about his book, including some Green Party members who held signs that read, "Run Ralph Run!" The state's Green Party has been stepping up efforts to encourage Nader to get into the race, saying this marks one of the best opportunities for the Greens to win a U.S. Senate seat.
Some Democrats accused Nader of being a spoiler in the 2000 presidential election when he ran as the Green Party's candidate and got 2.7 percent of the vote. Republican George W. Bush won the electoral vote that year, defeating the Democrat, former Vice President Al Gore.
This time around, supporters look to 75-year-old Nader as the person who can reform government and hold the banking industry accountable. Dodd has come under criticism for his role in the national financial crisis as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. A recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed 54 percent of voters disapprove of the job that he's been doing in Washington.
Nader said he wants to determine whether voters are truly dissatisfied with Dodd and whether there are enough willing to work throughout Connecticut's 169 towns "for a new breed of political representation in Washington."
"It really depends on what kind of momentum there is and how many people are willing to roll up their sleeves because I'm very accustomed to people saying 'run Ralph run' and then they drift away, predisposed and preoccupied with their daily life," he told reporters. "It has to be bottom up."
Nader said Dodd is "very personable" and shouldn't be written off. He also warned against speculation that Connecticut's senior senator might be urged by national Democrats not to run for re-election. But he said Dodd "has been very concessionary to the banks and the brokerage houses for years."
Dodd's campaign and the state Democrats have declined to comment on a possible Nader candidacy.
When Vic Lancia of Portland made it to the front of the line Friday so Nader could sign his book, he told his hero that he would be willing to help out with a Senate campaign.
"I'm retired, Ralph. I've got good legs to go to work for you," Lancia told Nader, who just nodded and smiled. "Give me something to do next year Ralph."
Tim McKee, a spokesman for the Connecticut Green Party, said the party is committed to proving to Nader there will be support, both volunteers and financial contributors. He said he's pleased to see that people not associated with the party already have begun Internet pages on social networking sites, such as Facebook, urging Nader to run.
"We're getting responses all across the nation. It's on all the blogs and stuff," McKee said. "They want him to run to win. That's the most important thing. This is not symbolic or anything like that. It's a run to win kind of effort."