Incumbent Leonard Boswell is hammering his 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary challenger, Ed Fallon, over Fallon's endorsement of Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, charging that Fallon "helped elect George W. Bush." The appeal is powerful to the party activists who vote in primaries. In the post-Florida era, Democrats consider a 2000 vote for Ralph Nader an act of heresy, and non-president Al Gore is a martyred Democratic saint.
But the picture of Gore was very different before the Nobel Peace Prize, before the Oscar, and before the 2000 election.
Retrospective history has painted Fallon as a loner, and less than a year later he repudiated the endorsement. But Fallon was far from the only Democrat unhappy with Gore. Polls in the summer of 2000 showed Nader winning as much as 6 percent of the national vote, well above his final 2.7 percent.
"If I had three hands maybe I could hold my nose, my gut and my mouth and vote for Al Gore," Fallon told a Cedar Rapids crowd on Oct. 29, 2000. "But in good conscience, I can't, I won't, and you shouldn't either."
Mike Palecek, who was the 2000 Democratic nominee for Congress against Tom Latham in the old 5th Congressional District in northwest Iowa, also endorsed Nader that year. "Nader was clearly the better candidate," wrote Palecek in 2007. Palecek's Nader endorsement earned a mention in the Capitol Hill newsletter Roll Call just before the election. Palecek lost in a landslide, winning only 29 percent in a heavily Republican district.
"Al Gore and Bill Clinton had bombed Iraq, continued the sanctions against Iraq for 10 years, "reformed" welfare, expanded the federal prison system. There is no way I was in support of that," wrote Palecek. "I do not regret endorsing Nader."
Palecek remains a registered Democrat even though he "detests" the party and feels both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are too militaristic. "We need strong leadership, someone who would be willing to investigate the Bush involvement in 9/11, for example. I think what we might expect from either Clinton or Obama is more of the same."
Fallon was among many people on the left end of the Democratic Party frustrated by Gore's choice of conservative Sen. Joe Lieberman, who supported Republican efforts to impeach Bill Clinton, as his running mate. History has proven those concerns to be prescient, as Lieberman bolted the Democratic party after losing his 2006 Senate primary, then defeated Democratic nominee Ned Lamont in the general election. That is the same kind of "nonsupport of the party" that got Fallon kicked off the Polk County Democratic central committee in 2001, yet Lieberman, calling himself an "independent Democrat," sits in the U.S. Senate Democratic caucus today.
Other liberal activists were annoyed by Gore's role in the Parent's Music Resource Council (PMRC) hearings of 1985, where Tipper Gore crusaded against Prince lyrics and faced spirited, circus-like rebuttals from Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and from Frank Zappa. Al Gore never distanced himself from the music labeling issue, and even bragged about his wife's efforts near the end of his final 2000 debate with Bush:
"When (our oldest daughter) was little, she brought a record home that had some awful lyrics in it. And Tipper hit the ceiling. And that launched a campaign to try to get the record companies to put ratings that -- warning labels for parents. And I'm so proud of what she accomplished in getting them on there."
"Tipper is hated by a lot of people for the warning stickers, especially by liberals who consider the labels censorship," wrote Jocelyn Marcus of the Iowa State Daily after the election. "Young people, especially males (who voted Nader in higher numbers than females), also tend to be the same people who buy CDs with 'Parental Warning: Explicit Lyrics' stickers on them. Though other PMRC members were also responsible for the warning stickers, the labels are widely called 'Tipper Stickers.'"
The Daily Iowan reported that more than 2,000 people attended a Sept. 25, 2000 Iowa City Nader rally, and many paid with a small donation to the campaign. That was a common Nader fundraising approach in 2000. Two days earlier, thousands had paid to attend a Seattle rally that also featured Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.
At the Iowa City rally, some were persuaded:
He won UI senior Jane Anderson's vote with this sentiment and others, she said.
"I was going to vote for Gore because he is not as supportive of big business as Bush," she said. "After this (rally), my vote goes to Nader."
"My Democratic Party affiliation is not a casual one," said University of Iowa law professor Nicholas Johnson, who introduced Nader at the event. His remarks remain on his web site:
"I've worked for the election of every Democratic presidential candidate since Harry Truman in 1948. I've run for the U.S. Senate from Iowa as a Democrat. I've run for Congress as a Democrat. I've held three presidential appointments in the administrations of U.S. Presidents who were Democrats. I've worked on a Democratic National Committee project and held virtually every position within the Johnson County Democrats.
So I have no intention of putting George W. Bush in the White House."
Johnson attacked Gore for accepting campaign money from 66 corporations that had also donated to Bush:
"AT&T, Phillip Morris, Microsoft, Federal Express, Anheuser-Busch, Pfizer, Time Warner. Ever heard of any of them? Well, there are 59 more I don't have time to list. These corporations don't care which of their nominees wins. They're not in this for the ideology. They're in it for the return on investment."
Johnson praised the historic role of third parties in coming up with new ideas for reform, telling the Nader crowd:
"That's how we got regulation of banks and railroads, a progressive income tax, the eight-hour workday, direct popular election of U.S. senators, workers' compensation, limitations on child labor, the women's right to vote, and the right to collective bargaining."
In a conclusion that seems haunting today, Johnson advised the crowd on voting strategy:
"If seven electoral votes could make the difference in who becomes president check the latest Iowa polls. Is the popular vote in Iowa likely to be close?
Only if you answer all of those questions "yes" do you need to be concerned that your vote for Nader risks putting someone you fear in the White House.
If there's a big spread on the national electoral votes, or the Iowa popular vote, it's a free vote for you.
It is voting for Bush or Gore that becomes a wasted vote.
It's the vote for Nader that's not wasted. The vote that's registered as a meaningful protest. A demand for campaign finance reform. For returning American democracy from the corporations to the people."
Despite Boswell's charge that Fallon "helped George Bush win," Gore carried Iowa by 4,144 votes, with Nader taking 29,374 Iowa votes. Iowa's seven electors did prove to be more than Bush's five electoral vote margin. (It would have been a four vote margin, but one District of Columbia elector abstained to protest the city's lack of voting Congressional representation. An effective protest, since I have to mention it in this disclaimer eight years later.)
After Democrat John Kerry lost the election, and Iowa, to Bush in 2004, Johnson wrote:
Vice President Gore would have easily won had he held the support of Democrats. There were many multiples more Democrats who voted for Bush than there were Democrats who voted for Nader. And more than half of those who voted for Nader were either Republicans or indicated that, but for Nader, they would not have voted at all.
'Never mind that,' said the party’s apologists, 'It’s all Nader’s fault.'
This year  the Democrats don’t have Nader, or anyone else, to scapegoat.
Johnson supported Fallon in his 2006 campaign for governor.