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Nader could be spoiler, some Democrats say

Consumer advocate to announce plans Sunday morning

Edwards, left, is campaigning in New York, Minnesota, and Ohio, and Kerry is in Georgia on Saturday.
Sen. John Edwards, left, is campaigning in New York, Minnesota and Ohio, and Sen. John Kerry will be in Georgia on Saturday.

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• The Candidates: Bush | Kerry
America Votes 2004: Presidential Race
Ralph Nader
Democratic Party

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The two leading Democrats left in the race for the White House were campaigning Saturday in some of the big states ahead on the primary calendar -- while Ralph Nader's scheduled appearance on a Sunday morning news show was giving Democratic strategists a bit of heartburn.

Sunday on NBC's "Meet The Press," Nader, the Green Party's presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000, is expected to announce whether he will make another White House bid, this time as an independent. Democrats who fear he could siphon off enough votes to tip the election to President Bush have been trying to talk him out of it.

"We can't afford to have Ralph Nader in the race," Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe told CNN on Friday. "This is about the future of our country. If you care about the environment, if you care about job growth, you've got to support the Democratic nominee. So I'm urging everybody to talk to Ralph Nader."

No Democratic contests were scheduled this weekend.

The leading Democrat, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, spent much of the day at home in Boston before traveling to an evening campaign stop in Georgia. His chief rival, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, campaigned in New York, Minnesota and Ohio.

Those four states, along with six others, hold primaries or caucuses March 2, dubbed Super Tuesday, with 1,151 delegates up for grabs. It is the biggest single day on the Democratic nomination calendar, with contests in four of the 10 largest states: California, New York, Ohio and Georgia.

Three states -- Utah, Idaho and Hawaii -- will hold contests Tuesday, but those events have largely been overshadowed by the primaries and caucuses a week later.

Campaigning at Hofstra University on Long Island on Saturday, Edwards continued to promote himself as the Democrat best able to beat Bush in the fall.

"We know that the Republicans are going to throw everything they have at us," he said. "We have the best answer to those attacks, which are new ideas, and a new and different way of doing things."

But Edwards, who has prided himself on running a positive campaign, also insisted that he would not go negative against Kerry, even though they are now fighting essentially a two-man race heading into Super Tuesday.

"If you're looking for the Democrat who can do the best job of attacking the other Democrats, that is not me," he said. "Our campaign is not based on the politics of cynicism. It's based on the politics of principle."

In his stump speech Saturday, Edwards did not mention Kerry by name. But he did try to cast himself as an outsider who will change "the old Washington way of doing things" and called for a ban on campaign contributions from corporate lobbyists.

A recent analysis found that Kerry, in his fourth term in the Senate, had received more contributions from lobbyists than any other senator. He insists the money never influenced the positions he took.

Meanwhile Saturday, President Bush -- who has seen his poll numbers dip as Democrats have pounded him on Iraq, jobs and other issues -- again defended his decision to depose Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

"He refused to disarm or account for his illegal weapons," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "My administration looked at the intelligence information, and we saw a threat. Members of Congress looked at the intelligence, and they saw a threat. The United Nations Security Council looked at the intelligence and saw a threat."

Bush again tried cast the war in Iraq as part of the larger war on terrorism in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, likely to be a theme of his campaign this fall.

"Two-and-a-half years ago, on a clear September morning, the enemies of America brought a new kind of war to our shores. Three days later, I stood in the rubble of the twin towers," he said. "My resolve today is the same as it was then -- I will not relent until the terrorist threat to America is removed."

Memories of 2000 election

In 2000, Nader won less than 3 percent of the vote nationally. But many Democrats are convinced he tipped the election toward Bush because the president's margin of victory in two states -- Florida and New Hampshire -- was smaller than the number of people who voted for Nader.

Had the Democratic nominee, Al Gore, carried either of those states, he would have carried the Electoral College and won the presidency.

However, it is impossible to know what those Nader voters would have done if he had not been in the race. Nader himself insists that "Gore beat Gore" and that many of his voters would have stayed home or voted for Bush if he had not been on the ballot.

Still, the possibility of Nader drawing votes from the left side of the political spectrum has leading Democrats worried.

"I think the role at this point that he plays is a similar role to what he played last time, and that's a spoiler," Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California told CNN. "I hate to say that."

One question raised by a Nader candidacy would be whether he would appeal to voters who were energized by the campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean -- particularly voters opposed to the war in Iraq, which both Kerry and Edwards supported in Congress.

Dean, who suspended his campaign last week, has said he will support the Democratic nominee in order to beat Bush. But some of his supporters who are less satisfied with their choices may be more open to Nader.

As one Dean supporter put it in a message posted on his campaign blog, "All I can say is I understand the reasons Nader is running this time a lot more than I understood them last time."

However, Edwards, who is trying to come from behind to catch Kerry, told reporters Saturday that he is actively courting Dean voters as "the person who has new fresh ideas." He has also said that his outsider, populist campaign can appeal to people who might be tempted to vote for Nader.

Nader said in December he would not run for the Green Party nomination in 2004. That decision means he will have to go through the process of getting ballot access in all 50 states as an independent, a potentially daunting and expensive task.

CNN's Dan Lothian contributed to this report.

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