GWEN IFILL: Third party presidential candidate Ralph Nader's battle for ballot access has been an uphill one, and there remains some dispute over where his name will appear. Maryland today became the 30th state to allow Nader on the ballot. That court of appeals decision followed a Friday ruling by Florida's Supreme Court allowing Nader to appear on that battleground state's ballot as well.
Nader, the Green Party nominee in 2000, won less than 3 percent of the popular vote that year, but was widely credited, and blamed, for tipping the balance against Democrat Al Gore in that photo-finish election. This year, the Nader campaign reports that they have qualified in enough states to compete for a total of 282 electoral votes. But according to a New York Times tally, Nader's petitions have not yet been ruled valid in at least 17 of those states. And legal challenges continue in at least a dozen others, where 166 electoral votes are up for grabs.
GWEN IFILL: Joining us now for more on Ralph Nader's ballot access battles are Kevin Zeese, the spokesperson for The Nader for President Campaign, and David Jones, the president of TheNaderFactor.com, an organization of democratic operatives working to keep Nader off ballots across the country. Kevin Zeese, as we were trying to keep track of these numbers today, they kept shifting even as we were counting on our fingers and toes. What is your sense right now of exactly where the ballot access issue stands for Ralph Nader?
KEVIN ZEESE: We've been told that we're on 37 ballots by the board of elections around the country. Seven of those are in litigation. There are seven others where we're in litigation to get on the ballot and one that we're waiting - Hawaii -- that we're waiting to hear -- so 37 with a potential of 45.
GWEN IFILL: Why has it been so difficult to get ballot access in these states?
KEVIN ZEESE: Well, the major problem has been the Democrats; the Democrats have been making an unprecedented effort to harass us, to intimidate us and to litigate us off the ballots. They don't want to face the issues that Nader is putting out, issues like healthcare for all, not leaving 20 million behind as John Kerry does in his plan or living wage for all when we have one out of three workers earning less than $8.75 or getting out of Iraq in a responsible, rapid way.
They don't want to hear those issues. And rather than debate the issues they're trying to deny voters a choice in an anti-democratic way. And I think it's really hurting the Kerry campaign. It's not a smart tactic by John Kerry to make him the issue of debate rather than George W. Bush the issue of debate. It's a big mistake; it's hurting him.
GWEN IFILL: So, David Jones, why are you Democrats keeping Ralph Nader off the ballot in these states or trying to?
DAVID JONES: Gwen, Ralph Nader has every right to try to get on the ballot if he can do so legally. What a lot of Democratic parties are doing around the country is just trying to make sure he follows the letter of the law.
The real issue here, Gwen, is that Ralph Nader is dividing the progressive opposition to George Bush. George Bush is public enemy number one among the progressive community in this country and Ralph Nader is essentially helping re-elect President Bush. And that's not what Nader supporters want. It's not what progressives want.
GWEN IFILL: Do you blame Ralph Nader for what happened in 2000?
DAVID JONES: Clearly in New Hampshire and Florida, Ralph Nader got more votes than the margin of victory. What we're talking about here is not 2000. We're talking about 2004. And the most important thing here to opponents of President Bush is to stay united. Greens, Nader supporters, all opponents of President Bush should unite together against the Bush agenda, not doing what Mr. Nader is doing, which is dividing the progressive forces in this country.
That's what Mr. Nader is doing. And that's why all over the country, Bush supporters are coming to his aid. He got on the ballot in Florida, Gwen, because his attorney there, Ken Sukhia, helped get him on the ballot. Ken Sukhia was an attorney, if you can believe this, for President Bush in the 2000 recount.
GWEN IFILL: Let me give Kevin Zeese a chance. There are a lot of things to respond to first. First, that the point that he was raising that David Jones is raising about that Ralph Nader is dividing the progressives.
KEVIN ZEESE: Well, Ralph Nader is speaking to progressive issues like no other candidate. I wish John Kerry would speak to progressive issues - as he said, when Ralph got in the race, he said, I'm not worried about Nader. I will take Nader's voters by taking Nader's issues. If he does that, he doesn't have to worry about Nader.
In fact, we're targeting the conservative base of President Bush. Conservatives don't like the record deficits; they don't like the lies to go to war; they don't like the jobs going to Communist China. If you go to our Web site at votenader.org, you can see that we are targeting conservatives, libertarians, McCain Republicans, a whole series of Bush's base.
GWEN IFILL: So it's true, what David Jones is saying that you're being helped by Republicans in these ballot fights --
KEVIN ZEESE: No, we're not. We're attacking Republicans more aggressively than Kerry is. We're turning back Republican help. In Florida for example we went to the ACLU for help first. They turned us down. We searched for lawyers. There's not very many election lawyers with that kind of expertise. Unfortunately the Democrats were not likely to support us. So we paid an attorney who is an election law expert. He didn't do it on behalf of the Republican Party.
GWEN IFILL: But I'm confused. First you said you were appealing to the conservatives but you're turning back Republican -- turning away Republican help.
KEVIN ZEESE: We're turning back Republican help that is intended to be Machiavellian to try to hurt Kerry. We are welcoming Republican support to our candidacy; in fact, in 2000, 25 percent of Nader's voters were registered Republicans. Only 38 percent were registered Democrats. The rest wouldn't vote for either party. Now, in 2004 -- it's not 2000 -- the Democrats united to get back into power. So we don't expect a lot of liberal votes.
We're going for the conservative Bush base. We're not afraid of being spoilers. I want to show you this shirt that we're putting out -- this is our spoiler shirt and this is what we feel like on the back: We need to challenge this corrupt system. That's what this is about. People should break the two-party hold, no more less evilism. Let's vote for the greater good.
GWEN IFILL: We love props. Do you have any props, David Jones? Let me ask you this
DAVID JONES: The only prop I have is the facts. In Florida what happened, Gwen, is that Ralph Nader hired George Bush's attorney.
GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask -
KEVIN ZEESE: Should he have gone to a Democrat?
GWEN IFILL: Let me ask you this question: Why is it that Ralph Nader -- there's not room for Ralph Nader for a third party voice in this election this year?
DAVID JONES: You know, Nader, the most important issues to Ralph Nader and to his supporters around the country and Kevin mentioned them: Job outsourcing, universal health care, corporate responsibility -
KEVIN ZEESE: -- War in Iraq -
DAVID JONES: -- the war in Iraq. All sorts of issues that are key to Ralph Nader and his supporters are going to be undermined by a continuation of the Bush presidency. And Ralph Nader in contributing to that continuation of the Bush presidency what he's doing is actually contributing to the re-election of George Bush. And it's a sad statement for a man who has spent his entire life fighting for things that have been right.
GWEN IFILL: Kevin Zeese, in this fight for ballot access is it draining resources that the Nader campaign would otherwise be using for other things, or are you getting enough additional help --
KEVIN ZEESE: Well, that's certainly one of the goals. And that's one of the problems in this ballot access fight. These groups like the 527s which I see as a cancer on our political culture.
GWEN IFILL: The independent funded....
KEVIN ZEESE: The so-called independent 527s that go to Democratic Party conventions and have meetings about how to keep Nader off the ballot, raise money at the Democratic Party Convention -- so-called independent groups, they're not limited by FEC regulations. They're unregulated. We are regulated. We're limited to a $2,000 contribution. So we have to raise money in those small increments while they can get $25,000-$50,000 to fight us. So it's really an unfair battle.
And so we're seeking help from people; people are coming to our Web site. They're making donations on votenader.org. 90 percent of our contributions are $100 or less. We're making it up but it is a challenge, but the advantage is this ballot access fight has shown the anti-democratic nature of our system. The ballot access laws themselves are undemocratic and the Democratic Party is showing its anti-democratic side.
GWEN IFILL: David Jones.
DAVID JONES: Gwen, the real story here is that if progressives want to defeat George Bush, progressives, greens, Nader supporters have to unite behind John Kerry. It's the only way they're going to defeat George Bush. Ralph Nader is dividing that opposition. That's why many of his major political and financial supporters are from the Republican Party. They're Bush supporters.
KEVIN ZEESE: Now....
DAVID JONES: Hold on, Kevin. The Florida debacle in 2000 worked with, had an attorney named Ken Sukhia. That's who George Bush's attorney was in 2000. You know who his attorney is now in Florida? Ralph Nader's. Why are the Republicans helping Ralph Nader? Because they want to help George Bush. It's not to make Ralph Nader the president of the United States. They're helping him because they want to make....
GWEN IFILL: Kevin --
KEVIN ZEESE: I've already responded to the Sukhia charge. We're paying Sukhia full fare; he is not pro bono - or it's not a gift --
DAVID JONES: He's a Republican lawyer.
KEVIN ZEESE: The more important point....
DAVID JONES: He's a Republican lawyer. Kevin....
GWEN IFILL: Can we just stop for a minute --
KEVIN ZEESE: The lie that he consistently repeats in his advertisements and just now is we're getting Republican support. There has been one study done, the Center for Responsive Politics has looked at our funding; they found that 4 percent of our funding has come from people who have donated to the Republican Party. They're almost all people Ralph Nader knows. I have to finish this point. $400,000 they gave to the Republicans, $50,000 to us, $60,000 to the Democrats. Why don't you return the funding you get?
GWEN IFILL: Stop. I have a final question to ask you both. If this -- it's become a political truism this year that the political populist is so divided that everyone has already made up their minds and only a very few people out there haven't and those people may or may not be... find Ralph Nader appealing.
KEVIN ZEESE: That's right.
GWEN IFILL: How has that divided electoral affected Ralph Nader's ability to get on the ballot and be as appealing this time as he was last?
KEVIN ZEESE: The problem with the ballot access - only one problem with that - and that's the Democratic Party being anti-democratic is the problem. We've told both parties to stay out of our ballot access efforts. We don't want their help; we don't want their hindrance. We prefer they stay out of it. The people need adequate healthcare and John Kerry is not providing that. The people need out of Iraq and John Kerry is not providing it.
DAVID JONES: David Jones.
GWEN IFILL: Gwen, there's only one way to defeat George Bush and his extremist policies and that's for Nader supporters -- Greens and independents to unite with the Democratic Party. Ralph Nader is dividing progressives in this country accepting help from the Republican Bush supporters. And he's going to damage our country in the long run, and it's a sad statement for a man who spent his life fighting.
GWEN IFILL: We're out of time. David Jones and Kevin Zeese, thank you both very much.
DAVID JONES: Thank you, Gwen.