WASHINGTON — In a year that offered a stark choice between the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, independent Ralph Nader and Libertarian Bob Barr found themselves on the sidelines, with little traction on their issues and no impact on the outcome.
In Massachusetts, which Nader said was his best state, he won just 0.9 percent of the vote to Democrat Barack Obama's 61.6 percent and Republican John McCain's 36.7 percent. Barr won 0.4 percent.
Nader had his moment in 2000, when his showing in Florida as the Green Party candidate effectively tipped the election to Republican George W. Bush. Democrat Al Gore lost the state — and the presidency — by 537 votes. Many Democrats tagged Nader, who drew more than 97,000 Florida votes, a "spoiler."
There were no spoilers this time.
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Nader, a news media darling during his consumer advocate days, has a stock answer for why he didn't take off in 2008: Blame the media.
"It would be a three-way race if I'd been in the debates," Nader said Tuesday in an interview. If the networks and newspapers had covered him, he said, his poll numbers would have gone up and the Commission on Presidential Debates would have had to include him. The commission requires that candidates have a 15 percent showing in the polls to be invited.
Still, Nader doesn't think that his third presidential run was in vain.
"We documented the two-party dictatorship, we've won ballot access and we've educated a lot of people about what politics should be about," he said. Nader was on the ballot in 45 states and the District of Columbia.
Nader's issues: a single-payer health insurance system; a "living" wage, meaning an increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour; support for local citizen activists; and, always, a crackdown on corporate crime.
"Nobody wanted to talk about the poor, except Edwards," he said of former Democratic candidate John Edwards of North Carolina. "No one opposed nuclear power, except us."
The Bush administration's $700 billion Wall Street bailout gave Nader a bully pulpit. He complained, however, that no one took up his call to fund the rescue with a one-tenth of 1 percent tax on the complex financial instruments called derivatives. "Make them pay for their own mistakes," he said.
Nader said that his purpose now was to build a "third political force," not — he's careful to say — a party, and "keeping the Progressive flame alive."
Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, was thought early on in the campaign to have a potential impact in states such as New Hampshire, which has a strong independent streak. However, the Granite State favored Obama by 60 percent to 39 percent over McCain. Barr got 0.3 percent and Nader 0.5 percent.
In his home state, Barr managed 0.8 percent to McCain's 60.6 percent and Obama's 38.5 percent.
Barr made privacy rights, civil liberties and gun rights a centerpiece of his campaign. He also opposed the Wall Street bailout and the Iraq war.
"Senator Obama's rhetoric is uplifting and positive," Barr said, "but the senator who showed genuine foresight and courage in opposing the Iraq war spent most of the primary season edging away from his initial tough stand."
During the campaign, Barr pressed for protecting civil rights and attacked President Bush for his expansive use of the Patriot Act.
Speculating about an Obama victory, however, Barr said that the Libertarian Party would have to continue its vigilance on civil liberties.
"If freed from the limiting forces of public awareness and involvement, President Obama would follow a long line of presidents who talk of enhanced individual liberty but practice a policy of increased government power," he said.
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