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Nader could tip election, and he isn't bowing out

WASHINGTON — With less than three weeks before the election, Ralph Nader is emerging as just the kind of threat that Democrats feared, with the potential to tip the balance in up to nine states where President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are running neck and neck.

Despite a concerted effort by Democrats to derail his independent presidential candidacy, as well as being struck off the Pennsylvania ballot on Wednesday, the longtime consumer advocate is on the ballots in more than 30 states so far. Polls show that he could influence the outcome in nine of them by drawing support from Kerry: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Wisconsin.

Nader reiterated this week that he had no intention of getting out of the race.

He said no one from the Kerry campaign was pressing him to get out, and he said he thought Kerry would not make a good president anyway.

"He's not his own man," Nader said in a telephone interview Tuesday from California. "Because he takes the liberals for granted, he's allowing Bush to pull him in his direction. It doesn't show much for his character."

Several Democratic and left-leaning groups sprung up this year to try to keep Nader off the ballot in the swing states, fearing that he could siphon votes from Kerry as he did from Al Gore in 2000.

In 2000, Nader won 2.7 percent of the vote nationally. Pollsters say that this year, Nader's national support has dwindled from a peak of 5 percent in May to about 1.5 percent now, but in some states it is more. In Iowa, for example, the average of the latest polls shows Kerry with 47.5 percent of the vote, Bush with 46.6 and Nader with 4 percent.

"Though he hurts Kerry more than Bush, there's a potential that he hurts Bush, too," said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who has examined Nader voters, although she said that potential Nader voters were difficult to find and hard to track.

Voters who supported Nader in 2000 tended to be split equally between men and women and were white, liberal and college-educated. But Greenberg said that voters who support him now tend to be white men, blue-collar, fiscally conservative, populist, against open trade, angry about the high cost of health care and prescription drugs and virulently opposed to the war in Iraq.