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.

Gonzalez doesn't own a car or a television, and likes to relax in the evenings by discussing, reading about, or making art. He even organizes books in his two bookcases according to color rather than subject.

But beneath the easygoing bohemian style is a talented and serious politician. In fact, Gonzalez goes so far as to say a Nader/Gonzalez win isn't out of the question. In an election with multiple candidates, it's possible to win with less than 40 percent of the vote, and Gonzalez says those numbers are not out of reach.

"I wonder if our support would grow if we were allowed into the debates," he says. "Would it grow from 5 percent to 10 percent, 5 percent to 15 percent? What if we were at those numbers? Wouldn't it be a different dynamic?"

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.

Newsom, a former opponent who learned not to take Gonzalez lightly, wrote a piece that was published on the Daily Kos Web site to remind voters of the threat posed by a Nader/Gonzalez ticket. "If I had to make an educated guess, I would bet that Matt Gonzalez' name ID outside San Francisco is somewhere south of zero," the mayor wrote. "But the fact is, Matt Gonzalez is a dynamic and accomplished politician who will bring both a charming charisma and steely discipline to the Nader effort."

Still, despite Gonzalez' optimism and Newsom's praise, it is all but certain Ralph Nader won't be sworn in as president in January.

As independents, it will be tough for the Nader/Gonzalez ticket to get on the ballot nationwide. Each state has different qualification requirements. But Nader has been aggressively campaigning in the East, and Gonzalez has begun to make radio appearances. He has traveled to Texas, and will soon visit Oregon and Washington. The two will campaign together in California in May, and Nader is scheduled to appear on the popular online forum Candidates@Google, which has hosted Obama, Clinton, and McCain.

So far Nader and Gonzalez have submitted enough signatures to get on the ballot in Hawaii and New Mexico, and have recently launched signature-gathering campaigns in Kansas and Arizona. They hope to avoid the expense of gathering signatures in California by seeking the nomination of the Peace and Freedom Party, which is one of the state's six qualified political parties. It has relatively few registered members, but has been a voice for racial equality, feminism, and ecology since 1967. Nader also insists he will get on the ballot in battleground states such as Arkansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.

In 2004, Democrats filed 24 lawsuits in 17 states in what Nader has described as a coordinated attempt to keep him off the ballot. Attorney Oliver Hall has filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia claiming Democrats brought the suits, most of which were dismissed as unfounded, simply to obstruct Nader's access. Among the defendants named in the complaint are Senator John Kerry, the Democratic National Committee, and the law firm of Reed Smith. "The whole purpose was to drain us," Nader says. "This is an attack on our First Amendment rights, our right to free speech. The corporate Democrats are sending a message that if you think you're going to get any kind of votes, it will cost you millions, so don't bother forming a third column because you will be punished."

But Nader says he is prepared for 2008. He has assembled a team of attorneys who are ready to file countersuits if the Democrats try to block him from getting on the ballot. "Because we have filed a complaint already in the District of Columbia, much of the work has been done already," Hall says. "We might have to make some slight adjustments depending on state laws, but we're ready this time."

Nader adamantly insists he will not broker deals with Democrats or any other political parties to bypass critical swing states such as Florida and Ohio, each of which played a deciding factor in the last two elections. "The public is tired of brokering and stealing and thieving and cheating," he says. "There will be no brokering, because it's the only way the voters can really trust you."

But Nader wasn't above taking money from major Republican Party donors four years ago. In July 2004, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that nearly one in ten of Nader's major contributors — those giving $1,000 or more — were Republican, and suggested the purpose was to hurt John Kerry's campaign. At the time, Nader defended the $23,000 in contributions as relatively small and mostly from Republicans he had worked with on a number of issues.

Gonzalez' senior adviser Hansu Kim says raising the issue of individual donations from Republicans was ludicrous. "Republican executives for oil, pharmaceutical, energy, and finance industries are lavishing millions on Senator Barack Obama," Kim says. "I wonder if the San Francisco Chronicle will ask Obama to give that money back."

But no matter who contributes to Nader's campaign, state Democrats say they aren't worried. California Democratic Party chairman Art Torres is dismissive of Nader's chances of getting on the California ballot. "Ralph Nader belongs in a wax museum; he's old news," he says. "Let him run for president. In fact, I want Ralph on the ballot; it's important for the people to have a choice. I would never, never block him from getting on the ballot."

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