Thursday, May 12, 2005

How Close Was Another Nader-Screwed Presidential Election?

There is a tendency to dismiss Ralph Nader's involvement in the 2004 presidential election as something of little consequence, that had no bearing on the outcome. Clearly, if one assumes that Karl Rove and Company didn't steal the 2000 election – yeah, right -- Ralph Nader had the singular effect in Florida of handing victory to George W. Bush, by siphoning off support that would have put Al Gore over the top.

While Nader was not nearly as much of an in-your-face factor last year, there is an alarming scenario in which Nader might have once again cost Democrats the White House. It is instructive to look at this what-if scenario when tempted to ignore the Nader influence and forget that, in addition to dealing with the crooks and liars on the Republican side, we also need to be mindful of the pernicious impact of a third-party candidate such as Nader.

Quick: What state had the tightest margin of victory (for either presidential candidate) in 2004?


John Kerry won the 10 electoral votes of America's Dairyland by a little under 12,000 votes, for a four-tenths of one percent edge over George W. Bush.

Why is this significant? Because Ralph Nader got over 16,000 votes in Wisconsin.

Let's do a major what-if and say that John Kerry won Ohio and its 20 electoral votes. That would have made the running electoral total 266 for Bush and 272 for President-elect Kerry (270 electoral votes wins it all.)

But what if Wisconsin swung ever so slightly in the other direction and that tiny percentage edge instead went to Bush? Make Wisconsin a Red State and move their 10 electoral votes and it becomes 276 for Bush and 262 for John Kerry. Game over.

What would we be thinking about the perceived insignificance of Ralph Nader's candidacy then, when faced with the devastating impact of his 16,000 Cheesehead votes?

Yes, this is hypothetical and playing stupid number games with an election long-since decided.

But when we consider the thin margin of Bush's Ohio victory and how John Kerry could have been President, we can't forget how easily that euphoria could have turned into yet another Nader-induced migraine if Wisconsin had tilted ever so slightly to the Right.

The Democratic party needs to remember this, and figure out how to deal with the possible impact of Nader or other third-party candidates, as we strategize on all future races.