A defiant Ralph Nader arrived in Buffalo on Sunday night to blame the Democratic Party for "assaults and dirty tricks" aimed at neutralizing a presidential effort some observers feel could once more sway an apparent razor-thin race.
Nader, who is competing in New York on the Independence and Peace and Justice lines, spoke to reporters at the Ukrainian Home on Genesee Street following a two-day upstate swing.
He sounded many of his familiar themes as he railed against the corporate domination of American politics and defended his right to run for president for the second time in as many elections.
But he saved his harshest criticism for the two-party domination of the political system, singling out the Democrats for using every possible tactic to upset a campaign some believe will drain votes from Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry.
"The Democratic Party, led by Chairman Terry McAuliffe and condoned fully by Sen. John F. Kerry, has launched an epidemic of dirty tricks to keep us off the ballot," he said. "I consider that a constitutional crime."
Nader said Democrats are hiring major law firms to harass efforts aimed at trying to get him on the presidential ballot around the country and were even scaring petition circulators into believing they could be prosecuted for gathering illegal signatures.
"We have seen an enormous amount of evidence to demonstrate the need for reform," Nader said. "This is American fascism."
Erie County Democratic Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan was unavailable to respond.
The longtime consumer advocate and political reformer is sending new chills down the spines of national Democrats as polls show he could prove a factor in close, battleground states, even if he is registering at only about 1 percent of the votes.
His criticism of the "quagmire" in Iraq, his call for health care for all and his contention that politics is run by big business could erode Kerry's Democratic base, according to many observers.
But James E. Campbell, a University at Buffalo political scientist and an expert on presidential elections, says Nader may be appealing to voters unhappy with either Kerry or President Bush. He believes Nader comes to "a fairly liberal city" like Buffalo this late in the campaign because votes are here, even if his votes appear to be far fewer than in 2000.
"He could be a determining factor," Campbell said. "But I'm guessing anyone who at this point votes for Ralph Nader finds both major candidates unacceptable. He's taking from the people who would not vote otherwise. If their votes don't go to Nader, they're not going to anyone."
Campbell added that Nader presents less of an alternative to Bush than Al Gore in 2000 because Kerry is "clearly the liberal alternative to Bush."
Still, Nader made a powerful argument for his effort Sunday by appealing to reform-minded Americans to cast their vote with him.
"It's time for the people to take over, and it's time for them to stop allowing the politicians to flatter, fool and flummox them," he said.
He pointed to upstate New York's sluggish economy and its lack of jobs as the reason to launch a major public works program that would put the nation's poor back to work while reconstituting its infrastructure.