The line outside of Varsity Theatre wrapped around the block Saturday night, but those waiting weren‘t there for a movie. They were waiting for Ralph Nader.
Nader and running mate Matt Gonzalez came to Varsity Theatre on Saturday to speak at a campaign rally, where they focused on their campaign goals and challenges.
The people in line were young and old, local and from surrounding communities, passionate Nader-supporters and undecideds checking him out. All were over-warm in the evening heat, waiting for the doors to the air-conditioned theater to open.
A group of pre-adolescent girls walked by the growing line, giggling and curious.
“What’s the line for?” one girl asks.
“Ralph Nader,“ another said.
Despite lack of name-recognition among teenage girls, Nader is polling at 6 percent nationally, according to the most recent CNN poll and has now qualified for the ballot in 21 states.
Just hours before his visit to Davis, the California Peace and Freedom Party announced that Nader, an Independent, would be the party’s presidential candidate on the California ballot in November, a major step for his campaign.
Matt Gonzalez, a San Francisco politician, took the stage first on Saturday. He opened and closed with a heated message responding to demands that Nader apologize to people who believe his campaign took away votes from Democratic Party candidate John Kerry in 2004.
“The only way you can make your vote relevant is to vote for who you want and not be scared,” Gonzalez said. “It’s hard out there, and it’s important that the people who support us defend us.“
Gonzalez introduced his running mate to a standing ovation from the audience, which filled roughly three-quarters of the 255-seat theater. Both men wore casual suits, no ties, with the collars of their shirts comfortably loosened. Neither wore the small American flag pins on their lapels that have come to be a staple in the presidential campaigning world.
Once comfortable behind the podium in front of Varsity Theatre’s curtain-covered movie screen, Nader dove into a conversation about the issues he and Gonzalez believe to be the most important.
He spoke about his belief in a single-payer national health care service. He also discussed the environment and the need to get air pollution under control, the need to harness solar energy, to decrease the “bloated military budget” and to have a livable minimum wage.
When Nader approached the issue of taxes he said, “There are a lot of things we can tax that we don’t like before we start taxing your labor.“
He talked about the “criminal gang in Washington,” telling the audience that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had “betrayed” them by allowing spending increases in Iraq during her time as Speaker of the House, instead of cutting the Iraq War budget.
Nader mentioned a project being sponsored by Google and YouTube to host a debate in New Orleans, La. with the candidates. In order to qualify for the debate, each candidate must be polling at 10 percent or more, a goal that the Nader campaign sees as doable if the voters make their choices based on the candidate they trust rather than the candidate they believe can win.
In order to qualify for the national television network debates, candidates must be polling at 15 percent or more. Making it into the Google debates, according to Nader’s campaign, would mean a better shot at getting in the national network debates.
Nader also responded to the idea that a vote for him is a wasted vote.
“If someone tells you you’re wasting your vote, you ask them, ‘When will you stop putting the ring in your nose and providing the tether to the … dictatorial parties in this country?‘” he said.
Audience members acknowledged the wasted vote question as a major obstacle for the Nader campaign.
“I know that one vote won’t make a big difference, but it’s a personal stance,” said Jose Lomeli, a UC Davis alumnus who will soon join Peace Corps. He said he will probably vote for Nader.
“I agree with [Nader] on a lot of points of views. To be honest I know he’s not going to win, but it makes me feel better [to vote for him],“ he said.
Not everyone in the audience was an Independent, or even a Democrat.
Republican Randy Tan, also a UC Davis alumnus, made the trip to Davis to see Nader.
“It’s important to look at how Democrats and Republicans can inject some of these ideals he’s presenting [into their own campaigns],” Tan said. “You can implement ideas regardless of party. Let’s work within the system to do things smarter, and there’s going to be a balance.“
Nader will appear on “The Colbert Report“ on Comedy Central on Sept. 2.
ALI EDNEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.