WASHINGTON – Former U.S. Rep. Toby Moffett is a man on a mission: to minimize any negative effect Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader might have on Democrat Al Gore’s presidential aspirations.
This month Moffett formed a committee of 10 former Nader workers independent from the Gore-Lieberman campaign. Their goal is to come up with a strategy to offset any inroads Nader may make.
“[Democrats] must be afraid,” said Nancy Allen, a Maine resident and one of the media coordinators for the Association of State Green Parties. “This effort is a response to what Nader could do to [Democrats.]”
Like many political observers, Moffett thinks Gore might have at hand a difficult, if not impossible, task in trying to defeat Republican George W. Bush in states where large numbers of voters still are undecided.
Lately Moffett has been on a very tight schedule; his mission is no easy work either. Nader’s poll numbers appear strong in some states. And prior to the Democratic convention in Los Angeles they reached a healthy 8 percent nationally, placing the Green Party in a solid third position behind the Republican and Democratic parties but far ahead of the Reform Party or any other party.
Though currently on a seven-day vacation at his Connecticut home, Moffett’s daily routine is hectic and loaded with interviews for radio and TV stations across the country, especially from a handful of key states – Maine, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington – where Nader could make a difference.
“It’s wild out there,” said Moffett of the Oregon race just after finishing an interview with a radio station. “All this is not an attack on Nader. It’s clear that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush. Even Nader has [agreed] with that.”
Oregon is the state where Nader had his best showing, 4 percent, at the expense of President Clinton four years ago. Clinton nevertheless won that state. But there was a lesson to be learned: The Democratic Party no longer should take for granted several traditionally Democratic states.
To avoid a similar surprise this year, Moffett’s approach is simple: Talk to as many media outlets as he can and spread the electoral equation that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush.
Moffett’s task still is largely unknown, so much so that several members of the Gore campaign barely know he was working on their behalf. Even Allen had to admit she had never heard of Moffett before.
But that doesn’t mean everyone within the Green Party is unaware of Moffett’s doings.
“It’s obvious the Democrats picked him because of his previous association with Nader,” said Green Party coordinating member Howie Hawkins, referring to the day when Nader, Moffett and a few other activists worked for the Connecticut Citizen Action Group back in the early 1970s.
Back then Moffett “worked hard” for the group, said Alan DiCara, one of those activists working side by side with Nader and Moffett for about two years.
But now DiCara said he is disappointed with Moffett.
“Toby is looking out for Toby,” DiCara said. “I am dismayed, but I am not surprised. That’s the way Toby is.”
Hawkins said he understands how someone who worked so closely to Nader could be working against him.
“As the country has shifted to the right a lot of intellectuals and activists have decided to go with the money. Just look at the Democratic leadership,” Hawkins said.
Moffett has been in the political arena since 1969 when he was an aide to then-Sen. Walter Mondale, D-Minn. But he has been out of office since 1983 when after four terms in the House he waged an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.
Moffett said the only reason he started this committee is to avoid the election of Bush and to stop the agenda against the Democratic Party.
Moffett said Nader would like to see the Democratic Party shift back toward the left after an electoral defeat for the presidency.
“Nader has become reckless,” said Moffett. “He’s basically saying there’s no difference between Gore and Bush. If he succeeds, I don’t know what will happen.”
For now, Allen, the Nader spokeswoman in Maine, did not seem to be concerned about Moffett’s efforts.
“This kind of effort is going to backfire,” said Allen. “Independent voters will see it as another reason to vote for Nader.”
Allen laughs and adds sarcastically, “I am delighted, it’s a wonderful strategy that can only help us.”