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Flat Ralph

Will Nader run? Does anyone want him to? Would it matter in the 2004 election?

4:00 PM, Feb 20, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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It certainly won't if John Pearce has his say. Pearce runs RalphDontRun.net, a website devoted to discouraging Nader from running for president. He is 39-years-old and has a wife and daughter. He voted for Gore in 2000 and doesn't want to see Nader spoil a Democratic victory again. So when he began to hear that Nader was contemplating a run, he teamed up with a computer programmer and created the website. It's now his full-time job. "It's a citizen's initiative," he says. He is speaking literally. Other than the computer programming, which was a one-time-only job, Pearce handles "the script, op-eds, media relations, email outreach, radio, tv and print media interviews, and overall management of the project."

He has been surprised at the response. "Three weeks ago we had less than 100 visitors a day," he told me. "Yesterday we had 10,000. We've run op-eds in a number of papers, and were in the Sunday Times and Fox News and 'All Things Considered.' We've started to get some exposure. The total number of visitors to the site is now more than 120,000. And this is all in three weeks."

Pearce fears that Nader may be playing into the hands of the right wing. "I think WEEKLY STANDARD readers might gleefully anticipate Nader running and splitting off some critical amount of Democratic voters and causing the reelection of George Bush," he says. Also, he would not be surprised if conservatives were secretly bankrolling Nader. "If I was Richard Mellon Scaife, I know where I'd be putting my money right now," he says. "And it would surely be with mischief and malevolence in mind." Of course, "this is pure speculation--I have no information on whether reactionaries are contributing to Nader's campaign--it's just that given the deafening silence from the grassroots for a Nader run, you have to wonder what's propping up his campaign, and it leads to wilder and more paranoid speculations."

"There's one objective barometer of grassroots support out there," Pearce told me last week. "It's essentially a stock market of grassroots support: Meetup.com." Pearce has been following Nader's support on the Meetup.com website for weeks. He emailed me the results. They show very little support for Ralph Nader. For example, on February 3, John Kerry, the Democratic frontrunner, had 37,000 people registered on the Meetup website. Nader had 373. Eight days later, Kerry had 44,600 people registered--an increase of 7,600. Nader had 374. I happened to log on to the Meetup website on February 18, the day I spoke with John Pearce, and told him that Nader's support had risen to 388 people.

"O my gosh! A grassroots tsunami!" he said. "Seriously, it's significant to note that this was mentioned in the New York Times this weekend, so out of 1.8 million New York Times readers, 16 of them leapt immediately to the barricades to join the Nader movement."

Pearce is not the only person trying to stop Nader. Aaron Toso and Jason Salzman, former Nader voters who manage a two-man public relations firm called Cause Communications in Boulder, Colorado, have started their own website, RepentantNaderVoter.com. The two came up with the idea for the website over stout beer and French onion soup at a local chophouse. Over 500 people have signed their pledge urging Nader not to run. Over 200,000 people have visited the website. "I love Ralph Nader as an activist," Jason told me. "But I don't think there's a lot of support for another presidential run." The two friends feel Nader's central claim in the 2000 election--that there wasn't a whit of difference between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates--has proven to be horrifically wrong. "I bought into it personally," Aaron says. "But Bush isn't a moderate. He's governing from the radical right."

"Tweedledee is still Tweedledee," Jason says. "But Tweedledum has turned out to be a global tyrant."

Then there is the Nation magazine. Long an advocate for Nader, it urged him not to run in its February 16 issue. "If you run," the editors write, "you will separate yourself, probably irrevocably, from any ongoing relationship with this energized mass of activists. Look around: almost no one, including former strong supporters, is calling for you to run, compared with past years when many veteran organizers urged you on."