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.

While Torres is dismissive of Nader, the Nader/Gonzalez platform appears to be resonating with voters even though their campaign only recently kicked off. A March Zogby poll showed Nader taking 5 percent of the vote in a three-way race with McCain and Obama. Swap Clinton for Obama, and Nader takes 6 percent. A FOX News/Opinion poll the same month showed one in seven voters would "seriously consider" voting for Nader. Another poll has him winning 10 percent of the vote in Michigan.

While those numbers are considered preliminary, or "soft," they are an indication the Nader/Gonzalez ticket could win enough votes in November to have an impact on the Democrats' chances. But political pundits and California party officials (neither the Obama or Clinton campaigns returned calls from SF Weekly) are dismissive of the threat.

UC Berkeley political science professor Bruce Cain says Nader will win only the votes of hard-core supporters in battleground states, and maybe some Democrat votes in solid blue states where a Nader vote is unlikely to affect the election's outcome. "The other scenario is Hillary wins the nomination in a brokered convention," he says. "Then you would have a lot of disillusioned younger voters who are particularly antiwar and more progressive than Clinton. That's a setting in which Nader, and particularly Gonzalez, who has a proven ability to energize young voters, could have an impact."

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.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Gonzalez is relaxing in the sunlit living room of his small apartment. He's slumped into the couch and complains of a headache. It has been a long week of campaign meetings and public appearances in addition to his responsibilities at the law firm, and there is still another media interview to do.

Gonzalez ignores a specific question about the date when Nader first asked him to join the Independent ticket, and answers philosophically. "For me, it wasn't whether or not to join Nader," he says. "We're both trying to do the same thing. I didn't have any doubt that it was the right thing. There needs to be reform, and I don't have any animosity toward people who disagree with me about how to achieve it."

Gonzalez puts his hands over his eyes. Then he sits forward and his voice quickens. "Hey, let me change the subject ..."

A moment later he is showcasing 67 Poems for Downtrodden Saints, the book he published for San Francisco street poet Jack Micheline, saying it was Micheline who first gave him "the courage to buy art."

Then he produces a large portfolio filled with charcoal drawings and sketches by Jack Freeman, a talented and prolific local painter. "I have so many people coming through here, it gives me an opportunity to show people his work," he says.

By nature, Gonzalez is at opposition with the status quo. That nature has characterized his career in law and politics. But in politics, change comes in small, hard-fought increments, and each inch gained is mined with compromise, expediency, and betrayal. The world of art, on the other hand, is in a state of constant insurgency. Axial changes in genre, design, color, and form are embraced and celebrated.

The interviewer makes an awkward attempt to shift attention back to a long list of prepared questions. "Ah, man, I thought we were done with that," Gonzalez says. "C'mon, I want to show you some collages."

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