Ralph Nader all over again

Dems worry third-party can­di­date will split vote

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Anthony Man South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

Florida Dems fear ex-Star­bucks CEO could help Trump in 2020.

Democrats ev­ery­where re­acted to the idea of for­mer Star­bucks CEO Howard Schultz run­ning an in­de­pen­dent cam­paign for pres­i­dent as if they’d got­ten a sud­den jolt of the cof­fee chain’s most bit­ter brew.

In Florida, the no­tion of a Schultz can­di­dacy is es­pe­cially dis­taste­ful to Democrats who have the 2000 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion seared in their minds.

If it weren’t for Ralph Nader’s pres­ence on the bal­lot that year as a Green Party can­di­date, Democrats are cer­tain that Al Gore would have won Florida — and the pres­i­dency — in­stead of Repub­li­can Ge­orge W. Bush.

“I to­tally blame Nader for that,” said Mitch Ceasar, who was chair­man of the Broward Demo­cratic Party at the time. “Al Gore lost for many rea­sons, but I con­sider Ralph Nader the No. 1 rea­son.”

For­mer U.S. Sen. Bob Gra­ham, D-Fla., said, “Nader had al­most 100,000 votes, and the mar­gin of vic­tory was less than 1,000. So clearly Nader’s can­di­dacy made the dif­fer­ence.”

Schultz, who said last month he might run as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in 2020, is a bil­lion­aire Demo­crat who es­pouses lib­eral so­cial views. He also ad­vo­cates con­ser­va­tive fis­cal poli­cies, in­clud­ing a will­ing­ness to con­sider cuts to So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care. And he doesn’t em­brace poli­cies such as uni­ver­sal health care and free col­lege tu­ition that are pop­u­lar with many pro­gres­sives.

He has lit­tle in com­mon with Nader, an anti-cor­po­rate war­rior and con­sumer ad­vo­cate for decades. But they’re linked in the minds of many Democrats be­cause of the ef­fect of Nader’s can­di­dacy.

Charles Zelden, a pro­fes­sor of his­tory and le­gal stud­ies who spe­cial­izes in pol­i­tics and vot­ing at Nova South­east­ern Uni­ver­sity, said a third-party or in­de­pen­dent can­di­date nor­mally “doesn’t mean much. But in (the 2000) elec­tion it was a big prob­lem.”

The ar­gu­ment: With­out Nader on the bal­lot, more of his votes would have gone to Gore than to Bush, and the out­come of the ul­tra-close con­test would have been dif­fer­ent. “It was enough to swing the elec­tion,” Zelden said.

By the time vote count­ing was

halted and the of­fi­cial re­sults were de­clared, Bush had 2,912,790 votes — 537 more than Gore, giv­ing the Repub­li­can the state’s elec­toral votes and the pres­i­dency. Nader, the lib­eral con­sumer ad­vo­cate, won 97,488 votes run­ning as the Green Party can­di­date.

Zelden said those num­bers ex­plain “why the Democrats are freak­ing out” at the prospect of a Schultz can­di­dacy. “Es­pe­cially for Democrats, 2000 is seared into their psy­che.”

They imag­ine a Nader re­peat, with Schultz si­phon­ing votes away from the even­tual Demo­cratic nom­i­nee, eas­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s path to re-elec­tion.

“The fear that people have to­day is rem­i­nis­cent of 2000,” Ceasar said. “It’s an ex­am­ple of his­tory — pos­si­bly — re­peat­ing it­self.”

It doesn’t take much to rev up people who were pas­sion­ate about the BushGore elec­tion, Zelden said.

He wrote the book “Bush v. Gore: Ex­pos­ing the Hid­den Cri­sis in Amer­i­can Democ­racy,” which still sparks re­ac­tions. “I tell people I wrote a book about it and they start grind­ing their teeth and they start yelling. It doesn’t mat­ter which side they were on.”

Ed Poz­zuoli, who was chair­man of the Broward Repub­li­can Party, doesn’t buy the Democrats’ ver­sion of anal­y­sis of the 2000 re­sults.

Even though Nader was run­ning to the left on the Green Party ticket, Poz­zuoli doesn’t ac­cept the premise that enough Nader votes would have gone to Gore, who was known as an en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, to change the re­sult. “I don’t think Nader was that im­pactual.”

If Nader hadn’t been on the bal­lot, Poz­zuoli be­lieves his sup­port­ers wouldn’t have voted.

Nader has con­sis­tently said he wasn’t re­spon­si­ble for Bush’s vic­tory over Gore. He said he wasn’t a spoiler in the elec­tion. Rather, other can­di­dates spoiled his chances, Nader has said.

But Mary McCarthy, who was chair­woman of Bush’s 2000 cam­paign in Palm Beach County and later county Repub­li­can chair­woman, said the pres­ence of ad­di­tional can­di­dates in a close race can change the out­come.

“It ob­vi­ously pulls votes from the ma­jor can­di­dates,” McCarty said.

Nader wasn’t the only third-party can­di­date whose pres­ence on the 2000 bal­lot made a dif­fer­ence. The so-called but­ter­fly bal­lot de­sign in Palm Beach County was con­fus­ing to many vot­ers and led some people to mis­tak­enly cast bal­lots for Re­form Party can­di­date Pat Buchanan when they thought they were vot­ing for Gore.

Buchanan, who said it looked like people there voted for him by mis­take, got 3,411 votes in Palm Beach County — an im­prob­a­ble 20 per­cent of his statewide to­tal.

Zelden said it’s un­likely a third-party can­di­date could at­tract enough votes in 2020 to in­flu­ence the elec­tion. But, he added, Florida statewide con­tests are of­ten de­cided by around 1 per­cent of the vote.

And, he added, “there’s no guar­an­tee who he’s go­ing to pull from.”

And Poz­zuoli said it’s far too early to assess what kind of im­pact Sch­lutz would have if he ends up run­ning in 2020. “We don’t know yet what kind of a can­di­date he’s go­ing to be. Is he go­ing to be a fac­tor?”



For­mer Star­bucks CEO Howard Schultz speaks at Pur­due Uni­ver­sity in West Lafayette, Ind., on Feb. 7. Schultz said last month he might run as an in­de­pen­dent can­di­date in 2020.

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