By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit
Should he stay or should he go? Ralph Nader's decision to run for president worries many Democrats and even former supporters.
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Stay with CNN-USA for reactions and analysis all evening to the Ralph Nader candidacy -- and for live updates on the run-up to Tuesday's primary in Utah and caucuses in Hawaii and Idaho.
CNN's Candy Crowley on Ralph Nader's announcement of a run for president.
CNN's Kelly Wallace on John Kerry's challenge to President Bush for a debate.
CNN's Dan Lothian on John Edwards' message about jobs and trade.
• Tuesday, February 24:
Hawaii, Idaho Democratic caucuses; Utah primary
• Sunday, February 29:
Puerto Rico Republican primary
• "Super Tuesday," March 2:
Primaries in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont, Georgia; caucuses in MinnesotaWhen is your primary? For more key dates in the 2004 election season, see our special America Votes 2004 Election Calendar
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Calling all Ralph Nader supporters, those "millions of people" he said yesterday are disenchanted with a "two-party duopoly" that conspires against them -- the ones who have been urging him for months to make an '04 run: Yeah, so ... where are you guys?
Nearly 24 hours after Nader said he's running because he really, truly wants to defeat George W. Bush, our e-mail inbox overflows with venomous pleas from lefty leaders who backed Nader four years ago. They're begging him to reconsider his decision and, if he won't, for progressives to rally instead around the '04 Dem nominee.
We've heard from civil rights activists, enviro-abortion advocates, the gay-marriage crowd and Hollywood liberals. A small group of former Raiders even protested yesterday outside the NBC studios, where Nader announced his decision on "Meet the Press." (Nader ducked out the back door after the taping. Calling Linda Schade!) (Nader announces his candidacy)
Even Ben Manski, co-chairman of the Green banner that Nader carried four years ago, emphasized that Greens are looking elsewhere in '04. Although he left open an invitation for Nader to join Greens at their nominating convention in Milwaukee in June, Manski acknowledged that there's "a campaign among some Green Party members to urge the party not to run a national candidate in 2004" if their nominee would hurt the Democrats.
"Look around: Almost no one, including former strong supporters, is calling for you to run," wrote the Nation magazine, which backed Nader in '00. "Ralph, please think of the long term. Don't run."
We mention this dynamic not to belittle Nader's young campaign, which was similarly dismissed when he first launched it four years ago. No, we bring this up to provide Dems with a small ray of hope on one of their darkest days -- and to remind Republicans of the pitfalls they face by being overly confident that Nader guarantees them another four years.
In other words, it's possible that, just as Bush now best embodies his "uniter-not-a-divider" image by uniting Democrats against him, Nader will unite the oft-fractured left with the party's centrist wing, behind that party's nominee.
We won't know this for sure until we see Rob Reiner walking arm-in-arm with Bruce Reed. But in the immortal words of Katherine Harris, "know this": 2004 is not, and will not be, a replay of 2000, and anyone who tries to overlay Nader's last race onto his latest bid is, well, just being lazy.
We'll hear more about Nader's supporters, if not from them, at 10 a.m. ET Monday, when Nader is scheduled to hold a news conference at the National Press Club here in Washington. Nader is to outline his agenda and discuss what role he envisions for himself this year. Aides say he'll also release his "detailed" communications with the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee.
Nader will also be a guest on "Judy Woodruff's Inside Politics" on CNN-USA, at 3:30 p.m. ET.
Notably, the '04 Dem voicing the most vehemence against Nader so far is Al Sharpton, who backed Al Gore in 2000 but hosted a rally for Nader at the HQ of his National Action Network in Harlem the day before the general election, where Nader railed against Gore. "The only one that can benefit from [Nader's] running is George Bush. This is either an ego trip or either some benign way of helping the Republicans. Either way I'm openly going to oppose it," Sharpton said.
In case you skimmed that quote (it's OK, we do it all the time), go back and read the part where Rev. Al calls someone else's presidential campaign an "ego trip."
For their respective parts, John Kerry and John Edwards spoke from the same page on Nader, each saying he's better positioned to "appeal" to potential Nader voters.
But the Democrat we're most interested in hearing from today is Howard Dean, who remains a potent voice among the Nader wing of the Democratic Party. We doubt it's a coincidence Nader unveiled his decision to run just four days after Dean ended his own '04 aspirations. Dean has said he'll back the Democratic nominee and has urged his followers to follow suit. But the strength with which he does so could be a crucial factor.
Yesterday, several former Dean staffers based in New York launched a Web site urging the former Vermont governor to get behind Edwards, presumably before Super Tuesday next week. "John Edwards gives us the strongest chance to beat George Bush, and a candidate who I believe is most closely aligned with the principles Governor Dean articulated in his campaign," said Eric Schmeltzer, a former Dean aide in New York.
Edwards made a point Saturday of reaching out to Dean supporters who are now backing him. Speaking in St. Paul, he cited several in the crowd and called Dean a "friend" and someone "who I personally have great admiration, great respect for. Somebody who has fought valiantly with a powerful voice that has changed American politics."
Also today, CNN's Dana Bash says that Bush will noticeably step up his election-year offensive against '04 Dems with a highly political speech in Washington. This, as his campaign prepares to air its first television advertisements March 4 -- all part of what an aide calls a "new period of engagement" for the Bush campaign.
"We are going to start looking and acting like an engaged campaign," said Bush campaign Communications Director Nicolle Devenish. "It's a tactical shift."
In a Monday evening speech at a Washington meeting of Republican governors, Bush plans to "make it clear he's now energized and ready to talk about the choice people have next November," according to Devenish.
The president will not mention an opponent by name but will charge Democrats with running on "wrong ideas that will move the country backward and derail and weaken our ability to win the war on terror," Devenish said.
Meanwhile, Bush aides Monday will begin calling both national cable outlets and key local media markets to secure times and rates for the first television advertisements, to begin running March 4, two days after the Super Tuesday primaries. (CNN.com's interactive Election Calendar)
The first ads will have what aides call a "positive tone," talking about the president's record, with the tag line "steady leadership in times of change." The president appears in the ads, which were shot both in the White House residence and outside on the grounds the week of February 9.