Ralph Nader has come out directly with his desire for 2012.
Though he wouldn’t rule out another presidential campaign himself, Nader, 76, said he hoped a new face would take up the progressive cause.
“I’m not foreclosing the possibility … There are just other things to do,” he said in an interview. “And it’s time for someone else to continue. I’ve done it so many times. When I go around the country, I’m telling people they need to find somebody.”
Nader has run, in some form with some party, in the last five presidential elections: write-in bid as a Democrat in ’92, Green in ’96 and ’00, Independent in ’04 and ’08. The strongest performance of these was 2000, when he pulled 2.72% of the vote. Since then, a combination of progressive fury from potential vote-splitting with Democrats and the problem of actual vote-splitting with the Green Party has limited his impact upon presidential campaigns.
Does the potential replacement for Nader exist? Most rumblings on the blogosphere would say no. If you are looking for an extremely viable candidate of the left, it doesn’t look like a Senator Feingold or Senator Sanders is willing to take the plunge. Former Senator Mike Gravel has publicly stated he may run, but his showing in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary was anemic.
Then there is the Green Party. An article at Green Party Watch has a nice summary of potential candidates for 2012, but the list isn’t very pretty. There are potential candidates like Van Jones and Cindy Sheehan who could be recruited to run on star power, but they are reminiscent of Henry Wallace’s 1948 Progressive Party run – well-known, but with significant negative baggage that could impede their viability.
Then there are former candidates. Winona LaDuke still has a bit of name recognition left, but I have seen little political will from her for a run in 2012 (she did endorse a Green for Minnesota State Auditor in 2010). Matt Gonzalez remains active in politics, but he was unable to translate name recognition in San Francisco into a strong showing on the Nader ticket in 2008 in that area and seems disenchanted with the Green Party. Then there is former Representative Cynthia McKinney, whose 2008 run floundered to 6th with 0.12% of the vote.
Finally, there is the potential for a strong Independent bid. Such a campaign would not necessarily be a progressive phenomenon, but on certain issues it could probably challenge President Obama from that angle. However, only two names stick out in this regard.
First is Jesse Ventura. He publicly declared in 2008 at Ron Paul’s Rally For the Republic that he was interested in such a bid. However, he has not returned to active campaigning in years, declining to run for Senate in 2008 despite strong poll numbers. He also may have a hard time consolidating some on the left; Ventura varies between a more progressive and libertarian line in interviews. In addition, he may want to focus on his TV show Conspiracy Theory, which has been relatively successful despite a few bumps.
The second possibility is Michael Bloomberg. The Independent mayor of New York City has been tossed around as a name to run for President since 2008. His ability to self-fund is infamous, only overshadowed by that of gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. He has high name recognition for one not affiliated with the two major parties. He would likely have the support of Jesse Ventura (although Ventura oddly encouraged Bloomberg to also support his ambitions). He is at 11% in the latest polls, but he sports high negatives. Ralph Nader recently wr0te 21 reasons why Bloomberg should run while claiming it is not necessarily an endorsement. Still, that may not translate to liberal support for the man with strong ties to Wall Street.
Nader himself has a few options. It doesn’t seem like he plans to drop completely out of the limelight anytime soon, but he could return to his roots in public advocacy. He could also keep politicking in the third party world. In 2010 there was significant encouragement for him to run against Chris Dodd in Connecticut, which it seems he entertained. There has also been a bit of buzz about a 2012 run against Joe Lieberman f0r Senate. If Lieberman does run as an Independent again, Nader could leverage his national profile to turn the contest into an interesting 4-way battle.
All things considered, the left does not yet have its new Nader. But politics can be unpredictable; it only takes one story for the next big thing, or Nader, to emerge.