Like most Democrats, I've got my criticisms of the 2004 Kerry campaign. But I also saw first-hand how the Kerry campaign and John Kerry in particular did many things right and many things better than any previous Democratic campaign. I'll be writing occasional posts about the many positive lessons we can take from Senator Kerry's 2004 run.
Like most progressives, I was disappointed to see Ralph Nader announce his candidacy today, because there is a small risk he'll draw Democratic votes away from Obama or Clinton.
But the dismissive responses of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton worried me a bit more, because that's the wrong way to deal with the Nader candidacy. Four years ago, John Kerry and the Democrats dealt with the Nader challenge exactly correctly, and reaped the benefits - holding Nader to 3/10 of one percent of the vote, one tenth of what he got four years earlier.
They reached out to Nader, kept him engaged, and let people outside the campaign spend the necessary millions to aggressively target potential Nader voters and convince them that a vote for Nader was indeed a vote for Bush. Here's how The New York Times reported a Kerry-Nader summit that took place in May 2004.
Faced with growing concerns about Ralph Nader's potential to siphon off Democratic votes, John Kerry began a forceful but delicate effort on Wednesday to win over the man whose candidacy caused so much trouble for the Democratic nominee four years ago.
Mr. Kerry did not ask him to abandon the race, and Mr. Nader showed no signs of bowing out. But Mr. Kerry's wooing did seem to be having the desired effect already. In an interview immediately after what participants called a very friendly one-hour meeting at Mr. Kerry's headquarters, Mr. Nader called Mr. Kerry ''very presidential,'' fondly recalled his antiwar leadership in the 1970's, praised his skills as a politician and quite favorably compared Mr. Kerry to Vice President Al Gore...
Mr. Nader had nothing but kind things to say about Mr. Kerry in a chuckle-filled telephone interview after the meeting. He said he and Mr. Kerry had done a little reminiscing. Mr. Nader recalled inviting Mr. Kerry over for a meeting in 1971 after Mr. Kerry gave his testimony against the Vietnam War to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And Mr. Kerry recalled urging Mr. Nader to run for president in 1980.
''I've known him a long time,'' Mr. Nader said. ''It's hard not to like a 27-year-old guy who comes back from the war and helps lead the antiwar movement.''
It's important to remember that neither Hillary nor Obama are likely to inspire the same positive feelings in Nader or his hard-core supporters. They've both been more accommodating of the special interests Nader has spent his lifetime fighting than Kerry ever has been. As a result, Nader will have ammo to make his absurd case that there's little difference between Democrats and Republicans, and possibly more inclined to do it than he was in 2004.
It will be easy to relegate Nader's electoral bid to obscurity -- it will just require a little finesse.
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