Party Crashers 08

Ralph Nader and running mate Matt Gonzalez are looking to make a difference in the upcoming presidential election. Early polling suggests they just might.

But despite Gonzalez' criticisms of other candidates' views on the war in Iraq, few antiwar protesters in the Bay Area seem sympathetic to another Nader candidacy.

In March, during an antiwar protest outside state Senator Dianne Feinstein's office near Market and Montgomery streets, the crowd swelled off the sidewalks and into the busy street. A group of protesters overtook the middle of the intersection, bringing traffic on the city's main commercial artery to a screeching halt. They were quickly surrounded by a phalanx of police officers sporting powder-blue helmets and riot batons, who moved in to arrest them.

A speaker whipped up the crowd of about 500 by ratcheting up the intensity of his rhetoric. "This war is illegal," he shrieked into the tinny public address system. "George Bush and Dick Cheney are criminals, and it's time to get them out of the White House. And fuck you, Ralph Nader, if you run for president! Ralph Nader, fuck you!"

Vice presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez prepares to speak at UC Berkeley.
Jenny Pfeiffer
Vice presidential candidate Matt Gonzalez prepares to speak at UC Berkeley.
At a Washington press conference, Ralph Nader announces Matt Gonzalez will be his running mate.
AP Photo/Lawrence Jackson
At a Washington press conference, Ralph Nader announces Matt Gonzalez will be his running mate.

The source of the resentment toward Nader in the left's spiritual homeland is the 2000 presidential election. Democrats have been effective in blaming former Vice President Al Gore's loss on Nader's Green Party candidacy in 2000, even though there are serious problems with the theory.

The election was extremely close in all the battleground states; election night finally boiled down to Florida, where Gore ended up losing by a mere 537 votes. The results gave Bush enough electoral votes to take the presidency. Because Nader got 97,000 votes in Florida, Democrats have argued vociferously that those votes would have otherwise gone to Gore. Some even go as far as to blame Nader indirectly for the war in Iraq.

"People are still feeling burnt by what happened in 2000," says Scott Wiener, president of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee. "When you have Nader take nearly 100,000 votes in Florida and close margins in other states like New Mexico and Oregon, there's no question that Nader had a role in Gore losing, but I'm not going to say for a second that Nader was the sole cause."

In fact, the Gore campaign had deep-rooted problems. Gore failed to win his home state of Tennessee, or President Clinton's state of Arkansas. In addition, there were so many problems in Florida that many believed Gore should have been more aggressive accusing his opponents of voter fraud. Problems included confusing butterfly ballots, missing overseas ballots, and a so-called "scrub list" that wrongly disqualified thousands of African-American voters because their names were similar to those of convicted felons. A month after the election, a national Harris poll showed 49 percent of Americans believed Gore had won the election, compared to 40 percent who thought Bush did.

Gonzalez dismisses claims that Nader was responsible for the outcome of the 2000 election, and says the idea that he is indirectly responsible for the war in Iraq is outrageous and hypocritical, given the Democrats' enthusiastic support for the war. He points out that Democrats are quick to blame third parties for their own failures, but fall silent when they benefit from third-party candidates. In fact, Gonzalez says, Democrats owe their current Senate majority to three-way elections: Maria Cantwell, Tim Johnson, and Jon Tester all won their seats because Libertarian Party candidates drew votes away from Republicans. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada owes his 428-vote victory in 1998 over Republican John Ensign to Libertarian Michael Cloud, who took 8,044 votes.

"Before you criticize Nader for entering a political race, ask yourself: If Congress approved the war in Iraq, all war appropriations, and the PATRIOT Act, then who is really spoiling this country?" Gonzalez wrote in a recent editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Despite their losses to Libertarian campaigns, Republicans are less hostile toward third parties. Mark McKinnon, who was advertising adviser to the Bush campaigns in 2000 and 2004 and who is currently working for John McCain, says third parties are part of the landscape in a democracy. "First, it should be in the constitution that if you can't win your home state, you can't be president," he says. "That said, in a race won by 500 votes, there is no question that Ralph Nader cost the Democrats the presidency. Bottom line, this is a democracy, and you don't get to pick your opponents. The voters do."

It's a windy Saturday evening, and people are jamming into Soap Gallery, a small storefront art space on Mission Street, to see Matt Gonzalez' art. There are about 15 of his small collages on the wall, two of which are marked as gifts for the gallery's owners. Gonzalez sips from a bottle of beer while talking with guests. The collages are made of cutouts of colored paper and cardboard Gonzalez culls from the mail or finds in the street. "Matt is great to have a show for," gallery co-owner Eve Mendelson says. "Artists can be a bit difficult and disorganized, but Matt had his work ready right on time and knew how he wanted to hang it. He's a little more disciplined than what we're used to."

Gonzalez lives simply in a small Western Addition apartment with his girlfriend, Robin Savinar. The apartment walls are covered with paintings, mostly from the Bay Area Figurative Movement, which is characterized by warm colors and figures distinquished by "gloppy" lines. Other than the paintings, the apartment is decorated so sparsely that when it was burgled recently, the only thing taken was Savinar's laptop. "There's nothing here that's worth much," Gonzalez says with a hint of pride.

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