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Carl Hiaasen
Nader plays crucial role in reelection plan
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Glenda Hood is sleeping easier these days, now that Ralph Nader is back on the ballot in Florida.

Still, it was a close call for the ex-Orlando mayor and Republican stalwart who was hand-picked by Gov. Jeb Bush to succeed Katherine Harris as secretary of state, overseer of elections.

Harris’ glazedly obedient, Stepford-wife performance during the 2000 vote debacle has been a tough act to follow, but Hood shows promise.

First came the infamous purge of felons from Florida’s voting rolls. The list of vanquished conveniently failed to include thousands of Hispanics, who tend to vote Republican.

The scheme was hurriedly scrapped after African-American groups and others pointed out the rather glaring bias.

The Nader maneuver turned out sweeter for Hood, although for a few days it appeared that she was in danger of letting the team down.

Nader rescued Bush four years ago, and he’s back again, completing his bizarre descent from iconic consumer crusader to petulant, ego-addled spoiler. He won’t win more than 3 percent nationally, but that’s all the buffer that the GOP may need.

Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Davey had ordered Nader removed from the ballot, saying that the Reform Party, which nominated him, failed to meet the statutory requirements for a legitimate third party.

Initially Hood told local elections supervisors to prepare outgoing absentee ballots without Nader’s name. Later she reversed herself and announced that she would challenge the judge’s ruling.

One can only imagine the frosty phone call that impelled Hood to change her position. (“Yes, Mr. Rove. Right away, Mr. Rove. Sorry for the mix-up, Mr. Rove.”)

Putting Nader on the ballot in every swing state has been a crucial part of the president’s reelection strategy. No place looms more important than Florida, and the pressure on Hood, who was a Bush-Cheney elector in 2000, must have been enormous.

Bush wouldn’t be in the White House today were it not for Nader, once a hero of the left. For Republicans, it’s a delicious irony.

Four years ago, Nader received 97,488 votes in Florida. Exit polling showed that about two-thirds of those voters who were open to other candidates would have picked Al Gore, if Nader hadn’t been running.

As everyone knows, Gore lost the state – and the White House – by a paltry and hotly disputed 537 votes.

It’s no wonder, then, that the Republican leadership has been pumping money into Nader’s wheezing candidacy, bankrolling his ballot efforts around the country. While a new poll suggests that Nader won’t be as large a factor in this year’s race, the president’s team isn’t taking any chances.

Here in Florida, lawyers with longtime GOP connections have been leading the battle to keep Rambling Ralph on the printed ballot. Democrats have deployed their own high-priced attorneys to get him off.

Under state law, a minority-party candidate qualifies by collecting 90,000 signatures, or by receiving the nomination of a “national party.”

What’s left of the Reform Party in Florida could fit in the back of a Mini Cooper. A party bank account recently showed a war chest of $18.18. Nader was “nominated” by conference call, and college kids were hastily recruited for a pretend convention.

Judge Davey, a Democrat, ruled that the Reform Party failed to meet the state requirements, and that Nader should be off the ballot.

When the Florida Supreme Court abruptly stepped in, it must have sent chills down Hood’s spine. Four years ago, that court rebuffed GOP efforts to block a recount in the presidential election, sending the Bush camp scrambling to the U.S. Supreme Court for salvation.

This time, though, the Florida justices didn’t side with the Democrats. By a 6-1 majority, the justices ruled that the law defining a “national” party is so hopelessly fuzzy that it would be unfair to exclude the Reform Party.

You won’t see Nader in the debates because he’ll never reach the required 15 percent standing in the polls. And you won’t see him in political commercials because he can barely afford bumper stickers.

But you will see him on the Florida ballot, much to the quiet relief of Hood. Her final test comes on Nov. 2.

For her robotic loyalty, Harris was launched to Congress. Such a lofty reward may await Hood, too, if she’s called upon to thwart another recount.

Carl Hiaasen can be reached by e-mail at
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