AUGUSTA, Maine — The 2004 presidential election may seem like ancient political history to many by now.
But if former candidate Ralph Nader has his way, some of the nasty, behind-the-scenes campaign tactics in the 2004 race for the White House will be re-aired later this year in, of all places, a courthouse in rural Washington County, Maine.
Nader has filed a lawsuit in Washington County against the Democratic National Committee and its former leaders, the Maine Democratic Party, the Kerry-Edwards campaign and others alleging the defendants used illegal and malicious tactics to attempt to keep Nader off the ballot in Maine and more than a dozen other states.
The court filing in late November — more than five years after the 2004 election — begs two important questions.
First, why now?
Second, why Maine? And more specifically, why Washington County, the easternmost county in the U.S. and also one of the most sparsely populated in the Northeast?
Nader attorneys said the answers to those two questions are actually related.
The longtime consumer advocate and political crusader first filed in a Washington, D.C., court in 2007, but the case was dismissed because the three-year statute of limitations had expired. The court indicated that the case could have merits, according to attorney Oliver Hall.
The legal window to file complaints in Maine is 6 years. And Maine was one of the places where Nader alleges Democratic party officials actively worked to keep his name off the ballot.
Nader appears to have chosen Washington County Superior Court for a venue because two of his electors in the state — Nancy Oden and J. Noble Snowdeal, both of Jonesboro — are county residents. A third plaintiff, Rosemary Whittaker, lives in South Portland.
Asked about the delay, Hall said it simply took time to put together a case involving so many people working against Nader in at least 17 states plus the District of Columbia. The Maine case is the first filed in a state court, although others could follow, he said.
“No candidate has ever faced the type of coordinated, nationwide effort to prevent him from running for political office as Ralph Nader did in 2004,” Hall said.
Arden Manning, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, scoffed at the allegations of a nationwide, anti-Nader conspiracy. He also pointed out that while the lawsuit was filed in Maine, other states are featured much more prominently in the complaint.
Manning said it is legal in Maine and elsewhere to challenge petition signatures to get a candidate or an issue on the ballot.
“To argue that there was a vast conspiracy against Ralph Nader is laughable,” said Manning, who did not work for the Maine Dems in 2004. “The truth is Ralph Nader lacked the support to qualify for the ballot” by substantial margins.
A spokesman for the Democratic National Committee said they had not yet received the lawsuit and could not comment.
In their complaint, Nader’s attorneys allege that Democratic Party leaders “agreed and conspired to launch a nationwide assault of litigation that was unfounded and abusive, which would drain the candidate’s campaign of time, money and other resources, in a deliberate attempt to use the sheer burden of litigation itself as a means to prevent the candidate from running for public office.”
Twenty-four complaints were filed in state venues challenging Nader’s paperwork to qualify for the ballot while five were filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The complaint alleges that the Democratic operatives were still bitter about Nader’s role in Al Gore’s hair-splitting loss to the Bush-Cheney ticket in 2000. Although Nader received less than 3 percent of the vote in 2000, many Democrats believe those votes would likely have otherwise gone to Gore had Nader not run on the Green Party ticket.
Democrats’ legal maneuverings to block Nader were ultimately unsuccessful in most states, including Maine. But they succeeded in draining the Nader campaign of the time and money needed to gain ballot access in several states.
The complaint also charges that the defendants harmed Nader’s professional reputation by falsely accusing him of fraud and damaged the structure under which third-party or independent candidates can run for president. The defendants are also accused of harassing or causing financial harm to Nader supporters, including those in Maine.
Although the lawsuit was filed with Washington County Superior Court in late November, the subpoenas have just been delivered to defendants in recent days because earlier copies were apparently lost in the mail, Hall said. Manning read the complaint for the first time on Wednesday.