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Ralph Nader shakes up Virginia governor's race with charge that Terry McAuliffe once tried to bribe him

May 29, 2009 |  8:39 am

Clinton ally Terry McAuliffee campaigning for governor of Virginia with musician will.i.am at his side May 11, 2009

Terry McAuliffe, the money man of the Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton presidential campaigns, is running for governor of Virginia. Yes the behind-the-scenes back-slapper is looking to move out front.

With two other competitive candidates in the Democratic primary, McAuliffe has borrowed a page from Barack Obama's playbook, organizing a massive grassroots effort, campaigning (as seen above) with backing from will.i.am, stumping as an agent of change, someone who can "shake up" politics and business in the Old Dominion.

Now comes Ralph Nader, the bad boy of Democratic politics, to shake up McAuliffe.

A onetime car safety advocate and perennial presidential candidate, Nader is widely viewed as the spoiler who robbed Al Gore of the controversial 2000 election eventually decided for George W. Bush by drawing votes away from the Democratic vice president in Florida.

Now, Nader is telling reporters that in 2004, when McAuliffe was the Democratic National Committee chairman, he offered presidential candidate Nader an unspecified amount of money to spend in 31 states if he promised to stay out of 19 battleground states where he could potentially hurt Democrat John Kerry.

Although McAuliffe's staff has not denied the allegation, it's clearly are not happy about this.

"It looks like Ralph Nader misses seeing his name in the press," said spokeswoman Elisabeth Smith. "Terry's focused on talking with Virginians about jobs, not feeding Ralph Nader's ego."

Nader made the charge in an interview with the Washington Post, calling to verify the allegation, which was made in a recent book by Theresa Amato, who was Nader's national campaign manager in 2000 and 2004, called "Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny."

Nader not only confirmed it, he made clear he thinks the former DNC chairman and Syracuse, N.Y., native now running for Virginia's governor is unfit for office. Nader's actual words: “Terry McAuliffe is slipperier than an eel in olive oil.”

With the primary election on June 9, it's not clear how much such an allegation will hurt among the Democratic base, who regard Nader with all the warmth of a skunk at a family reunion.

-- Johanna Neuman

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Photo credit: Bill Tiernan / Associated Press

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