Members of the Congressional Black Caucus will meet privately with independent presidential hopeful Ralph Nader on Tuesday afternoon to tell him in no uncertain terms that they want him out of the race.
The CBC asked for the sit-down with Nader in April at the urging of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.). The 39-member group wants to personally urge Nader — widely blamed for Democrat Al Gore’s narrow defeat in the 2000 presidential race — to abandon his White House bid.
CBC lawmakers, on the verge of formally endorsing Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) for president, said they fear a repeat of 2000 this fall. Members said by staying in the race, Nader will hurt Kerry’s chances and secure a second term for President Bush.
The CBC chairman, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said the group is committed to electing a Democrat to the White House and feels to that end it is critical to reach out to anyone who might be “blocking those efforts.”
Cummings said the CBC will try to impress upon Nader on Tuesday that while the independent candidate and Kerry have differences, they are minor when compared to the differences between Nader and Bush.
“Hopefully, Mr. Nader will look at the big picture — that being he wants the country going in a much different direction than the country is going in now. We will ask that he not be an aider and abettor to anything that might be harmful to the Kerry campaign.”
One CBC member said the meeting with Nader will likely be a “very direct and blunt conversation.” Others said they expected the session to be “hard hitting” and that the group will not approach Nader with kid gloves.
Several CBC members said they believe Nader has no place in the 2004 race and want to ask him to step aside to ensure he doesn’t help Bush win another four-year term.
“The whole point is Nader got 90,000 votes in Florida. Certainly that could have made the difference” for Gore in 2000, said Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). “It’s time to stop the stranglehold the Republicans have on the three branches of government they control.”
Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) said CBC members will make plain to Nader that he could tip the election toward Bush. He added that the CBC feels it is important they deliver such a message, arguing the black community has been “particularly hard hit” by the policies of the Bush administration.
“The goal is getting Bush out and it’s too important for someone to deliberately — without a legitimate chance of success — to play a spoiler role,” he said.
But Kevin Zeese, spokesman for Nader, said getting out of the race “is not on the table,” adding that CBC members “should not hold their breath” if they believe he will agree to withdraw.
Zeese said Nader isn’t coming to the meeting to talk about his future political career, rather he will bring with him a substantive agenda focused on changes he’d like to promote in urban and minority communities.
“The time to drop out is before you drop in,” Zeese said. “It would be irresponsible. We’ve got people out there collecting signatures for us who want real leaders who care about them.”
But even sometime Nader allies in the CBC think it’s time for him to call it quits.
“As a progressive, I have frequently agreed with Ralph Nader’s agenda,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). “But all Americans, and especially communities of color, stand to lose too much under four more years of the right wing Bush administration destroying our environment, depriving our seniors of a real prescription drug benefit, eroding our public schools, and continuing to turn back the clock on civil rights and affirmative action.”
And other CBC members believe if Nader truly cared about voters, he wouldn’t have gotten in the race in the first place.
“Frankly, Ralph Nader shouldn’t be running for president,” said Rep. Artur Davis (D-Ala.). “It’s a vanity exercise, and he shouldn’t be running.”
Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) added: “I do not believe for one moment that his running is an honorable pursuit. I didn’t think it was honorable four years ago, and I don’t think it is honorable today.”