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Inside Politics

Black Democrats hold heated meeting with Nader

Caucus wants independent to drop out

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A meeting between independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader and members of the Congressional Black Caucus turned into a shouting match Tuesday, after Nader made it clear that he would not drop out of the race.

At a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, lawmakers could be heard shouting at Nader to get out of the race. When the meeting was cut short by a floor vote, several of the members stormed out of the room.

Nader emerged from the confrontation appearing calm but slightly shaken. He described the meeting as "a robust exchange."

He told reporters that he tried to explain to caucus members that he will help elect presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry in November by splitting the conservative vote and siphoning support from President Bush.

"We agree on the issues," he said. "But we have differing strategies to defeat George W. Bush."

That reasoning didn't seem to convince caucus members, all of whom are Democrats.

"He made it clear he's going to stay in the race," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the chairman of the caucus. "It became abundantly clear to us that this is about Ralph Nader, and we were sorely disappointed."

"This is the most historic election of our lifetime, and it is a life or death matter for the vulnerable people we represent." said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. "For that reason, we can't sacrifice their vulnerability for the efforts being made by Mr. Nader."

"I told Mr. Nader today that a vote for Ralph Nader is really a vote for George Bush," said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California.

But Peter Camejo, the Green Party activist who is Nader's vice-presidential running mate, said he was "surprised by their lack of understanding of the growing trend towards independent action.

"It's a new phenomenon they're confronting," he said.

Cummings, who at one point described Nader as an "aider and abettor" in promoting Bush's policies, said he believed the meeting had an impact on Nader, even if he's refusing to leave the race.

"If nothing else, we believe we had an impact on his conscience, and now we pray he will synchronize his conscience with his conduct," he said.

Many Democrats fear that having Nader in the race will draw away enough left-leaning voters to tip key battleground states into Bush's column, giving him an electoral college victory. But Nader insists that he will also draw votes from conservatives and independents upset with the president.

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